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Ebola - a dreaded virus

Brigite Osterath / jlwMarch 25, 2014

Most people infected by the Ebola virus die - there is still no cure. The World Heath Organization has registered 15 outbreaks across Africa since 1976 when it discovered. Guinea is currently experiencing an epidemic.

Ebola Virus Hamburg
Image: picture-alliance/ dpa

In 90 percent of cases, the Ebola virus is fatal. Drugs or vaccines against the virus don't exist.

So far, the disease has occurred mainly in the remote villages of Central and West Africa, particularly in the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Republic of Congo and Sudan as well as Gabon, Ivory Coast and Uganda, and more recently, Guinea. Around 60 people have died there from the viral infection since mid-February.

How Ebola spreads

The Ebola virus is spread from person to person through the exchange of body fluids – it can't be transmitted through air particles. There has to be direct physical contact. Patients with the virus often infect those caring for them, explaining why the virus often spreads in hospitals. Transmission can also occur when mourners come to bid farewell to infected deceased relatives or friends and touch the corpse.

Animals can also be carriers of the virus, which is able to multiply in almost any of the host's cells. Fruit bats are especially known to be transmitters of the virus.

The Ebola virus originates from the tropical rain forests of central Africa and Southeast Asia. It belongs to the class of filoviridae, which looks like long, thin threads when viewed under a microscope. There are several sub-types of the Ebola virus, of which only a few affect people. But, when the virus does, the infection is more often than not fatal.

Signs and symptoms

Between two and 21 days after becoming infected, patients begin to feel weak and experience headaches, muscle aches and chills. They lose their appetite and feel lethargic, suffering from stomach cramps, diarrhea and nausea. A so-called hemorrhagic fever sets in, accompanied by severe internal bleeding. This condition affects the gastrointestinal tract, spleen and lungs, eventually leading to the death.

No medication

Vaccines against the Ebola virus don’t exist, and once the virus has entered the body, no medication can eradicate it. The only way to limit the possibility of infection and an epidemic of this deadly disease is to take preventative measures. These include establishing hygiene practices in hospitals, wearing protective latex gloves and having adequate quarantine measures in place.

The Ebola virus was discovered in 1976 in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Since then, the World Heath Organization has registered 15 outbreaks across Africa, including Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo in 2012. More than 1,300 people have died from the virus. At the moment, Guinea is experiencing an epidemic.