What is Ebola?

Ebola virus is a single-stranded RNA virus that belongs to the family Filoviridae. There are five known species of Ebola virus: Zaire ebolavirus (EBOV), Sudan ebolavirus (SUDV), Tai Forest ebolavirus (TAFV), Reston ebolavirus (RESTV), and Bundibugyo ebolavirus (BDBV). EBOV is the most deadly species, with a mortality rate of up to 90%.

Ebola virus is thought to originate from fruit bats, which are natural hosts for the virus. The virus can be transmitted to humans through contact with infected animals, such as chimpanzees, gorillas, fruit bats, monkeys, forest antelope, and porcupines. The virus is often spread through the handling or consumption of bushmeat, which is meat from wild animals.

Ebola virus can also be transmitted between humans through close contact with bodily fluids of infected individuals, such as blood, sweat, urine, feces, vomit, breast milk, and semen. The virus can also be transmitted through contact with contaminated surfaces, such as clothing, bedding, and medical equipment.

Once inside the human body, Ebola virus targets the immune system and other vital organs, causing a range of symptoms. The virus first infects immune cells such as macrophages and dendritic cells, which play a critical role in the body’s defense against infection. The virus then replicates within these cells and spreads to other organs such as the liver, spleen, and kidneys.

The initial symptoms of Ebola virus disease (EVD) include fever, muscle pain, headache, and sore throat. As the virus progresses, it can cause more severe symptoms such as vomiting, diarrhea, and internal and external bleeding. Patients with EVD can also develop a rash, hiccups, red eyes, and difficulty breathing.

Ebola virus attacks the body in multiple ways. The virus disrupts the immune system, preventing it from mounting an effective defense against the virus. The virus also causes damage to the lining of blood vessels, leading to leakage of fluid from the blood vessels and a drop in blood pressure. This can lead to shock, organ failure, and death.

Ebola virus also targets specific cells in the body, such as endothelial cells, which line the blood vessels. The virus causes these cells to release chemicals that increase the permeability of the blood vessels, allowing fluid to leak into surrounding tissues. This can lead to edema, or swelling, of various organs, including the brain.

The virus also causes dysfunction of the blood clotting system, leading to bleeding from various organs and tissues. Patients with EVD can experience internal bleeding, as well as bleeding from the eyes, nose, gums, and other areas.

There is no specific treatment or vaccine for Ebola virus disease, and the main form of treatment involves supportive care such as fluid and electrolyte replacement, and treatment of secondary infections. Early detection and prompt medical attention can improve the chances of survival. Researchers are currently developing vaccines and treatments for EVD, including monoclonal antibodies and antiviral drugs.

In conclusion, Ebola virus is a highly infectious and often fatal virus that attacks the human body by targeting the immune system and other vital organs. The virus causes a range of symptoms, including fever, muscle pain, headache, vomiting, diarrhea, and internal and external bleeding. There is no specific treatment or vaccine for Ebola virus disease, and the mortality rate can be as high as 90%. Early detection and prompt medical attention are critical for improving the chances of survival.


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Written By:
Sophie Webb
Biologist at TEW


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