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Monday, November 17, 2014

What is Ebola Virus Disease?

Alarming news has struck everyone about an outbreak of a viral disease in West Africa. According to World Health Organization (WHO), the disease has been spreading faster than efforts to control it. 

The virus disease kills 90% of those infected and. However, based on the reported number of lives lost which shows that failure to contain it could be catastrophic, as stated by WHO head Dr. Margaret Chan, the virus disease could be stopped if well managed.

What are the things we need to know about this virus disease? Let’s start first with this list of ten important facts.
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This is a repost from The Daily Health Journal. Well, you know what they say, “Health is Wealth”. 

1. Where it came from. 

In 1976, the Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) or formerly known as Ebola haemorrhagic fever, first appeared in two simultaneous outbreaks. One of them was in a village in Yambuko near the Ebola River, hence the name. The other was in Nzara. Both of which were located in the Democratic Republic of Congo.1 

It is also said that he name Zaire ebolavirus (the officially designated name, also as EBOV) is derived from Zaire (the country in which the Ebola virus was first discovered) and the taxonomic suffix ebolavirus (which denotes an ebolavirus species). 

2. The species of Ebola. 

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Just a few scientific know-what here. The EVD is included in the genus Ebolavirus of the family Filoviridae. I know you do not need to really remember the terms but they might come in handy. The members of this family are called Filovirus, and there are five of them:2 

  • Bundibugyo ebolavirus (BDBV) 
  • Zaire ebolavirus (EBOV) 
  • Reston ebolavirus (RESTV) 
  • Sudan ebolavirus (SUDV) 
  • Taï Forest ebolavirus (TAFV). 

The most dangerous of them all are the causative agents of the Ebola Virus Disease, the species Zaire ebolavirus (EBOV). 

The Reston ebolavirus (RESTV) is a milder strain of Ebola that has been discovered in the Philippines and China. They were found in pigs and monkeys, but can also infect humans. However, there were no illness nor mortality caused was recorded to date. 

3. Ebola outbreak since 1976. 

4. Transmission

Similar to any other contagious diseases, the most concern is on how it can be transmitted. With this, close contact is the primary source of transmission. It could either be through blood, bodily secretions, and waste products. 

In Africa, it was documented to have started through the handling of infected animals. After then, there is human to human transmission through body contacts, and as well as indirect contacts with environments that are contaminated by infected body fluids or secretions. The EBV has been epidemic throughout Guinea and beyond the nation's borders in West Africa.3 It spread throughout the population and the community like wildfire.

5. Signs and symptoms

The interval of from infection of the virus up to the onset of signs and symptoms is two to twenty one days. Early signs and symptoms would hardly indicate that a person is indeed infected with EBV; these would include fever and chills, severe headache, joint and muscle pains, and weakness.4 

As infection progresses and left untreated, conditions may aggravate and would become severe. There would be episodes of nausea and vomiting, rash, eye redness, stomachache, diarrhoea, chest pain and cough. 

The disease also got the name, Ebola haemorrhagic fever, because of the bleeding an infected individual may suffer. Diarrhoea may be bloody and in some cases, there is both internal and external bleeding. People who are dying may bleed from the eyes, ears, nose, and even rectum. 

6. Diagnosis 

As mentioned earlier, early signs and symptoms would barely help diagnose a person of having infected with EBV. Other diseases resemble similar manifestations, and therefore should be ruled out first. An infected person would be diagnosed through laboratory test results, which would be extremely risky for a healthcare practitioner. Laboratory tests are usually done under strictly contained biological and biohazard proof conditions. 

A person’s medical history is also important in suspecting EBV infection. Those who have history of travel, or constant exposure to animals, especially wildlife, undergo thorough medical examinations. 

7. Tests

If a doctor suspects a person of having EBV, laboratory tests are done to confirm diagnosis, along with the signs and symptoms. This includes enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA), detecting proteins as effective in early detection, and Reverse transcriptase polymerase chain reaction (PCR), which would detect the viral RNA. Detecting antibodies against the virus is effective late in the disease and in those who recover.5 

8. Treatment and medication

Unfortunately, so far there is neither cure nor antiviral medication that is proven effective to combat the infection. No ebolavirus-specific treatment exists.6 People who are infected with EBV are given primarily supportive treatments to sustain life and hopeful recovery. 

Since there is a possibility for an infected person to loss a huge amount of blood due to bleeding, infusions to replace the lost blood is vital to aid in decreasing fatality. Dehydration could also be a problem, hence rehydration by providing fluids is deemed necessary. Healthcare practitioners also see to it that oxygen is provided as needed. Fever should also be monitored and be alleviated. People in such health conditions are also prone to other infections that should be also avoided and treated accordingly to avoid further complications and impairment. 

On the bright side, it is assured that early treatment may increase the chance of survival.7 

9. Impact on society and culture 

Knowing how lethal EBV is, and added that there is no vaccine or treatments yet available, it is classified as a biosafety level 4 agent, as well as a Category A bioterrorism agent, by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

The said level is required for work with dangerous and exotic agents that pose a high individual risk of aerosol-transmitted laboratory infections, agents which cause severe to fatal disease in humans for which vaccines or other treatments are not available. On the other hand, the term per se bioterrorism would refer to terrorism involving the intentional release and dissemination of biological agents such as viruses, bacteria, and toxins. In other words, it has a potential to be used and weaponized in biological warfare.8

10. Vaccine and prevention 

Just as they say, prevention is better than cure. The most effective form of prevention that man has ever invented is vaccination. But, in the case of EBV, and at this point in time, there is no licensed vaccine yet for the virus disease. It was announced by WHO that vaccines are being tested, but none are available for clinical use. 

As for other means of prevention, routine cleaning and disinfection of pigs and monkey farms should become a habit. In case of an outbreak, the premises should be quarantined immediately. Any dead remains of animals, especially the infected ones should be buried properly, or better yet be incinerated. Due to the absence of effective treatment and vaccine for both humans and animals, the public should be made aware of the risk factors of being infected with EBV, and the protective measures a person can take.


1 WHO. Ebola virus disease. Fact sheet N°103. Updated April 2014. Accessed August 4, 2014.?
2 WHO. "Ebola virus disease"?
3 "Chronology of Ebola Hemorrhagic Fever Outbreaks". Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 24 June 2014. Retrieved 25 June 2014.?
4 Mayo Clinic. Ebola Virus. Accessed August 4, 2014?
5 Ebola Hemorrhagic Fever Diagnosis". CDC. January 28, 2014. Retrieved August 4, 2014?
6 Choi JH, Croyle MA (December 2013). "Emerging targets and novel approaches to Ebola virus prophylaxis and treatment". BioDrugs 27 (6): 565–83. Retrieved August 4, 2014?
7 Sierra Leone Is Epicenter of Ebola as Guinea Clinic Shut". 2014-06-08. Retrieved 2014-07-30. ?
8 Salvaggio MR, Baddley JW (2004). "Other viral bioweapons: Ebola and Marburg hemorrhagic fever". Dermatologic clinics 22 (3): 291–302, Retrieved August 4, 2014?

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