On Guard - EBOLA

These two words say it all when it comes to dealing with the latest virulent (bitterly hostile) virus that has now arrived, uninvited, in the United States. Everyone who reads, watches or listens to the news knows exactly what we’re talking about; EBOLA. This virus has a history of dealing out death and destruction around the world. It takes its name from the Ebola River, the second longest river in Africa, where it was first discovered. Ebola first arrived on the seen in 1976 when two simultaneous outbreaks occurred in the Sudan and the Congo. During this first epidemic hundreds of people lost their lives.

So why is Ebola virus so life threatening? After all it doesn’t look dangerous at all, most often resembling a short thread with many different shapes, sometimes said to resemble pigtails or a “shepherds crook”.

However, as we know from past experience, looks can be deceiving. Ebola damages the body because of a surface protein molecule that forms a part of its structure and is critical for its entry into human cells. This protein, often referred to as a spike protein, also prevents the cells they infect from triggering the bodies immune system thus countering an immune response designed to attack and destroy the virus.


Because of this immune deficiency, once the virus enters a person’s body it most often causes an infection that damages the blood clotting cells of the body, resulting in severe coagulation abnormalities. It also damages and destroys the cells that line the body’s blood vessels (endothelium). Both of these lead to the uncontrollable internal and external bleeding that gives the resulting disease its more scientific name, Ebola Hemorrhagic Fever. And the bleeding can be extensive involving the stomach, intestines, the lining of the nose and mouth and even the eyes. It is this uncontrolled bleeding that leads to blood and fluid loss (dehydration), resulting in a reduction in blood flow, a severe lowering of blood pressure and eventual death in more than 80% of infected patients.


How does one get Ebola? Interestingly the virus isn’t as contagious as the more common viruses like colds the flu or even measles. It is believed that the virus was first introduced into the human population by contact with the skin or bodily fluids of an infected animal, like a monkey, chimpanzee, gorillas or fruit bat. It then moves from person to person the same way, via direct contact with the blood, secretions, organs or other bodily fluids of infected people, and with surfaces and materials (e.g. bedding, clothing) contaminated with these fluids. The incubation period, that is, the time interval from infection with the virus to onset of symptoms is 2 to 21 days. Humans are not infectious until they develop symptoms.

Unfortunately there is very little a person can do about Ebola. There are however three important things that everyone should be aware of: 1) Understand how the disease is spread, 2) Avoid areas in which infections have been reported and suspected and 3) Avoid direct contact with infected people.