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Ebola virus, how Ebola virus spreads, what does Ebola virus do to humans?

You must have heard in the news that the Ebola virus has killed nearly 4,500 people in West Africa. Ebola virus was first discovered in 1976 during an outbreak in Sudan. It was named after a river which is present in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Ebola virus Structure

The virus has a different and unusual shape as compared to other viruses. It is very long and thin, measures 14 micrometres and despite of its huge devastating impact, its genetic makeup is very simple. It consists of a single stranding RNA, which contains only seven genes. Ebola virus structure

How the Ebola virus spreads?

Fruit bats are considered as the main reservoir of the Ebola virus. A human can get an infection from infected wild animals such as monkeys, apes and other animals which are commonly killed for bushmeat. The human can transmit the infection from person to person, thus initiate a devastating outbreak.

How people get an infection of the Ebola virus?

Ebola virus is present in the skin, organs, tissues and body fluids of infected humans and animals even when they are dead. As it is seen that handling dead bodies is particularly dangerous. The Ebola virus enters into the body
  • through cuts and scratches in the skin or
  • through mucous membranes of mouth, nose and eyes,
  • or through contaminated needles.
After gaining entrance inside the body, Ebola virus attacks, macrophages, monocytes and dendritic cells. All these cells are an important part of our body’s defence system and these spread the infection to all parts of the body through blood or lymphatics. Especially, it targets the liver and adrenal glands and disturbs their functions.

Signs and Symptoms of Ebola virus infectionSubcutaneous bleeding, in Ebola virus infection

The incubation period of the virus ranges from 2 – 21 days. The incubation period is that period in which a person is infected but he doesn’t show any signs or symptoms of the disease. In this period virus continue to divide and spread throughout the body. Once the incubation period is over, the patient starts to show non-specific flue like symptoms such as fever, chills, muscle pain, diarrhoea, nausea and vomiting. It can easily be confused with other common diseases such as Malaria, typhoid and Lassa fever. Thus, it is often misdiagnosed. Inside the body, Ebola virus attacks the liver and adrenal gland. Liver cells are destroyed and liver function disturbs, one of the functions of the liver is to produce clotting factors, that help the blood to clot in order to stop bleeding. Therefore, internal or external bleeding may occur. Internal bleeding may lead to shock and death. The adrenal gland secretes steroids, that help to control blood pressure and many other functions. Loss of adrenal function causes hypotension and shock. The most deadly consequence of Ebola virus infection is generalized and massive immune (defence) reaction of the body to the Ebola virus. This immune reaction is an attempt of our body to wipe out the virus, but it causes the release of a large number of cytokines. Cytokines make the linings of blood vessels more permeable and fluid from the blood vessels starts to ooze out into the interstitial tissues or body cavities. This causes hypotension, low blood pressure, shock, internal or external haemorrhages and death ensues shortly due to multi-organ failure.

What are the chances of survival after Ebola virus infection?

In past 20 out-breaks Ebola virus has killed 25 – 90% of the patients. In the recent, 2014 outbreak of West Africa has killed 70% of the people. Now as we know about this virus, WHO has started working to make a vaccine against the virus and it is hoped that the vaccine will be available in the market soon.

Dr. Adil Ramzan, MBBS - 22*10*2014


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