Ebola: Basic Facts About the Virus

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The Ebola outbreak of 2014 has become the largest in history. News about the disease spread very quickly and was accompanied by rumors and disinformation, some of which created panic and stuck fear in people. Scientists are still attempting to create a vaccine against the deadly virus, and many questions about the disease remain unanswered. However, there are basic facts about the Ebola virus that people concerned should know, including the virus’ history, symptoms, treatment and ways to protect oneself.

Previously, the virus was known as Ebola hemorrhagic fever, but nowadays it is more commonly called Ebola Virus Disease (EVD). The disease is caused by the five representatives of the genus Ebolavirus. Each one can infect humans, however only Bundibugyo Ebolavirus, Zaire Ebolavirus and Sudan Ebolavirus species cause disease or death. The current outbreak is caused by the Zaire Ebolavirus species, which is considered to be the most dangerous due to its 90 percent death rate.

The origin of the EVD remains a mystery. One theory suggests that dogs, bats and pigs could harbor the Ebola virus in their intestines. As a result, people who eat one of these animals could get infected. The first outbreak happened in 1976 in Yambuku, Democratic Republic of Congo, and in Nzara, Sudan, simultaneously. The outbreak in Yambuku was situated close to the Ebola River, which explains the name given to the virus.

Symptoms of Ebola may appear in only 21 days and initially may be fever, headache, diarrhea, abdominal pain and vomiting, which is similar to flu. Further progression of the disease can lead to kidney and liver failure, dehydration and hemorrhaging. At the last stage, the immune system releases excess immune and cytokine cells, which leads to tissue and organ damage. Presence of Ebola is usually determined by a blood test.

Currently, a vaccine for Ebola Virus Disease does not exist. The best doctors can do is provide intensive patient support, which includes introduction of intravenous fluids and maintenance of optimal temperature, blood pressure and oxygen levels. Scientists have developed vaccines that demonstrate promise, but which are not yet tested and can give no guarantees.

EVD is spread through contact with an infected person’s body fluids, including sweat. Ebola can be transmitted sexually through semen as long as seven weeks after the person is infected even if the symptoms are weak. People involved in healthcare have to be extremely cautious with products of human excretion. Those involved with the preparation of bodies for burial must be very careful as well, because Ebola can be transmitted via bodily fluids even after death has occurred.

The outbreak of 2014 originated in Guinea in March. As of now, the disease has spread to Nigeria, Sierra Leone and Liberia. Out of 1,323 cases registered in West Africa, 729 were fatal. Two citizens of the U.S. were infected with Ebola during their stay in Africa. Both of them were transported to the U.S. where currently, doctors of Emory University Hospital in Atlanta are fighting to save their lives. Sixty health care workers died this year in attempts to control and stop the disease.

According to the predictions of many health officials, spread of the virus beyond the African continent is not likely. The reason why it spread so rapidly in Africa is due to an inappropriate level of health care. Representatives of the World Health Organization are keeping their eye on the Ebola Virus Disease in order to prevent transmission of  the disease to other countries and regions.

One basic fact to consider about the Ebola virus is that the best way to eliminate the possibility of getting the disease is to avoid trips to the locations where cases of Ebola virus have been registered this year. If one has traveled to such an area or has been exposed to a person who has, there is a necessity to contact a hospital for medical assistance. Practicing proper hygiene is also mandatory if the slightest chance of being infected exists.

By Yevgeniya Migranova


World Health Organization



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