By Maggie Martin
Despite the technological advances of today’s world, human beings are often powerless when faced with sickness and disease. One of the most gruesome and disturbing diseases in existence today is Ebola. This article discusses what Ebola is, where it originated and why researchers are studying it so intensely.
Ebola is a rare and often deadly disease caused by the Ebola virus. It is highly contagious and causes hemorrhaging (bleeding) both inside and outside the body. It can be transmitted from one person to another through contact with blood and other bodily fluids, possibly including respiratory secretions. It can also be transmitted through sexual contact.
Ebola affects not only humans but also non-human primates, including the great apes. Despite ago percent fatality rate, it’s not a very complex virus and it is possible to neutralize it with antibodies created in the course of a natural infection. Because Ws one of the most contagious viruses ever known, the US government has it listed as a Class A bioterrorism agent. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) have assigned it a biosafety level of 4, placing it at the top of the scale.
Because Ebola lives in animal hosts, it’s possible to contract the virus from an infected animal. Thus, care should be taken when working around certain types of primates (such as guerrillas and chimpanzees), bats and rodents. Keep in mind that in the parts of the world where Ebola is known to be a threat, some of these animals are hunted for their meat, creating a particularly dangerous situation.
The disease first appeared in 1976, resulting in 2 simultaneous outbreaks that affected parts of Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). The name “Ebola” actually comes from a river of the same name, located in the DRC. The virus was easily able to spread throughout these communities through both person-to-person transmission and indirect contact with bodily fluids left behind in contaminated environments.
Ebola’s incubation period lasts from 4 to 16 days, after which it replicates and is quickly able to overwhelm its host’s defenses Symptoms usually begin with fever, headache, fatigue and muscle aches. These will be followed soon after by a sore throat, diarrhea, vomiting and a rash. More serious symptoms may include vomiting blood, bleeding (internally or externally) and bloody stool. The bleeding is the result of abnormal blood clotting, caused by the effect of the virus on the platelets and white blood cell count.
Ebola is still considered an emerging threat and there is currently no cure or vaccine available for it. It’s one of the few viruses in existence that science knows very little about. Current research is focused on experimental vaccines that may prevent infection. Ebola patients have little more to lose at this point and the hope is that something can be developed soon before the virus spreads to other parts of the world. Experts currently believe that it’s unlikely to result in a pandemic since airborne transmission is difficult and the virus does not live as long in a contagious victim when compared to other diseases.
Although the number of infections worldwide has remained relatively low, a current outbreak in West Africa is by far-the worst in history, killing nearly 700 people in Sierra Leone, Guinea, Liberia, and Nigeria. Not since it was first discovered has any outbreak killed as many people or affected so many countries.
Maggie Martin is completing her PhD in Cell Biology, works as a lab tech for Mybiosource.com and administered ELISA kits in the diagnosis and treatment of various diseases. She contributes content on Biotech, Life Sciences, and Viral Outbreaks. Follow on Twitter @MaggieBiosource