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Ebola: Tim Weaver M310 Microbiology Mr.


Picture, for one moment, numerous bloody bodies lying scattered and moaning in agony in blood-soaked beds as the life is slowly and painfully drawn from them as if they were soldiers that had just returned from one of the deadliest wars in history, bruised, battered and broken by their enemy. But they had fought no war, and had never laid eyes on their enemy, for the very thing that was destroying them was living and replicating at an enormous rate, right inside their own bodies. This is the gruesome image of what a hospital looks like when its patients encounter the Ebola virus. Today the mention of its name alone can instill fear in anyone has heard much of its unpleasant effects. Yet, many do not know just how horrible those effects are or just how Ebola has come to be what we know it as today. Ebola has only in fairly recent times emerged from its hiding place in the depths of the tropical rainforests of Africa and is now seen as one of the most lethal and efficient viral killers on the planet, certainly a potential bio-weapon threat that could prove extremely devastating. Although Ebola is thought of as a very ancient virus, humans have only recently felt its presence on the Earth, and so its know history is brief, but significant. The Ebola virus was first recognized in September of 1976. (CDC "Ebola Hemorrhagic Fever" para. 1) The only thing we knew then; were that it was dangerous, very dangerous, and although much remains to be known about this virus, we have also learned a lot about it since its initial discovery. Ebola originated in the African rainforest regions surrounding Zaire, where the first cases were discovered. Other known cases of Ebola infections have occurred in Gabon, Sudan, the Ivory Coast, Uganda, and the Republic of the Congo. Although we know the general area from which the viruses came, we don't know exactly where or what it came from. However, scientists believe it is "normally maintained in an

animal host that is native to the African continent" and that humans get it from contact with that animal. (CDC "Ebola Hemorrhagic Fever", para. 3) Four distinct Ebola strains are known of, all of which belong to a family of viruses called the filoviridae. These are the Zaire, Sudan, Ivory Coast, and Reston strains, all of which can be lethal in humans and non-human primates such as monkeys, gorillas, and chimpanzees, except Ebola Reston, which does not affect humans. There is only one other identified filovirus, a close cousin of Ebola known as Marburg (CDC, "Filoviruses" para..2). The Zaire strain is the most lethal, with a 90% death rate. The outlook for an individual with Ebola is obviously not good no matter which strain they contract, however there have been cases of recovery from an infection, for reasons that are still not entirely known by doctors and scientists. It is known, however, that "the patients who die usually have not developed a significant immune response to the virus at the time of death" (CDC "Ebola Hemorrhagic Fever", para. 11). Ebola's, and the other filoviruses, structure resembles a piece of thread that can be in the form of several shapes including U's and 6's (CDC "Filoviruses" para. 2). This is unusual and rare as far as viruses are concerned, and it is believed that Ebola or viruses similar to it may have been on the earth since its very creation about 6 billion years ago. The Ebola virus causes a dangerous and serious disease, called Ebola Hemorrhagic Fever, in primates such as humans and monkeys. Symptoms of Ebola HF can begin anywhere from 2 21 days after initial infection, depending on the strain (Izenburg 319). The symptoms come suddenly and begin with fever, headache, joint and muscle aches, a sore throat, and weakness. This is followed by diarrhea, vomiting, and intestinal and stomach pain. During the period before death, some patients may develop a rash, red eyes, and bleeding, both internal and external. This is known as "crashing and bleeding out" in

which a patient leaks blood from every opening and orifice in the body (Preston 24). The virus replicates extremely fast insides its victim and attacks every organ in the entire body, turning it into a liquid filled with millions of virus particles. There is no cure or treatment for Ebola. All the can be done is to provide "supportive therapy," which basically entails trying to keep fluid and oxygen levels stable as well as maintaining blood pressure and trying to deal with the symptoms such as fever. The virus is transmitted through "direct contact with the blood and/or secretions of an infected person" in humans, but the Reston form can be airborne. (CDC "Ebola Hemorrhagic Fever", para. 7) This is the one thing that prevents Ebola from becoming a worldwide epidemic. If it were to become airborne in humans, there would be almost no stopping it. However, it spreads very easily in Africa because of the lack of knowledge by the general public of how viruses are spread. The hospitals reuse needles and syringes and the nurses and doctors do not strictly follow safety precautions such as wearing masks, gloves, and protective clothing. The burial rituals in African cultures may often involve handling directly the dead bodies, escalating further the chance of infection (Preston 109). Due to Ebola's severe symptoms and extremely high death rate, it could easily do severe damage to the human civilization if it was not properly identified and contained. Once an outbreak of Ebola, or any other disease for which there is no cure, occurs the only way to stop is to isolate those who have been infected and quarantine them so that the virus is unable to spread. Special procedures must be taken to contain and sterilize everything before an outbreak gets out of hand. Because the incubation period is relatively low, extremely fast action must be taken for it to be effective. If one single

infected monkey were to escape from a facility or bite a caretaker, the virus could establish itself very quickly in the US or another major country if infected persons were to travel abroad before the symptoms became severe, there could be cases across the entire globe in a matter of weeks. With that many people infected and spread out, there would be no agency capable of dealing with and containing the individual outbreaks. Doctors and hospitals would not be equipped to deal with the numerous infections and so the virus could quickly overwhelm the population and knock out communications, travel, and basic services. The modern world as we know it would begin to fail like the organs of a person infected with Ebola, and the end result would be death of the human civilization. The only chance for survival would be the small percentage that survived infections and small pockets of people in reverse quarantines, where they block themselves from the outside world. These are of course only theoretical effects of a natural Ebola outbreak. However, if someone were to decide to use Ebola as a biological weapon, the effects could be even worse. Not only would a large-scale Ebola attack spread farther, it would happen almost instantly. If this were to happen, there would be almost no stopping the annihilation of the masses. With this gloomy possibility in mind, scientists around the world are scrambling to find ways to save those infected and stop Ebola from killing. Although at this time there is no specific treatment, vaccine, or cure available for Ebola, efforts are constantly being made to try and further understand the virus and find ways to stop it. So far scientists have been able to make progress in some areas that may prove promising as methods of winning the war on Ebola. The BBC Health Department reported this progress and explained why it is such a significant breakthrough:

Lead researcher Dr Gary Nabel, of the NIH Vaccine Research Centre, said: "We have been able to define the major Ebola virus gene that kills cells, and have provided a molecular target for potential new antiviral drugs and vaccines." Dr Nabel's team placed a protein produced by the Ebola virus into human and pig arteries. It broke down the endothelial cells which line the blood vessels and made them leak. But when they altered the protein slightly, it did not have this effect. If a treatment can be made to block the effects of this gene, then the body might have enough time to fight off the infection. (BBC "Breakthrough on Ebola" para. 9) Also, a plant has been discovered whose compounds have been shown to stop the replication of the Ebola virus. The Garcinia Kola plants come from the same forests in Africa that the virus is thought to reside in. The compounds from these plants could possibly form the basis for drugs that would stop Ebola and allow the body to stand a chance against it. (BBC "Ebola cure hope") As time progresses so does out understanding of the inner workings of the virus and just how it attacks the human body. It now looks like a vaccine or drug that could cure Ebola may be relatively close at hand. Work has already begun on using antibodies in lab mice to combat the disease. (BBC "Ebola cure possible"). These techniques provide hope that one day this devastating disease will be curable. Although Ebola has only recently come into contact with the human race, it has managed to cause an enormous amount of destruction and fear as it emerged from its tropical hiding place to become one of the most feared and dangerous infectious agents. Its effects are devastating on a single human body, but a worldwide outbreak would be catastrophic. However, perhaps we have seen the worst of this virus as scientists get closer and closer to discovering a way to give us a fighting chance against


WORKS CITED "Ebola Hemorrhagic Fever." World Health Organization. Dec. 2000. Online. Available 16 Nov. 2002. Health. "Breakthrough on Ebola." BBC News. 31 July, 2000. Online. Available 15 Nov. 2002. Health. "Ebola Cure Hope." BBC News. 5 Aug. 1999. Online. Available 15 Nov. 2002. Health "Ebola Cure Possible." BBC News. 2 March 2000. Online Available 15 Nov. 2002 Izenburg, Neil, M.D. ed. "Ebola Fever." Human Diseases and Conditions. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons. 2000. Vol. II. 319-320. Special Pathogens Branch. "Ebola Hemorrhagic Fever." Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 4 June 2002. Online. Available 13 Nov. 2002. Special Pathogens Branch. "Filoviruses." Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 3 May 2002. Online. Available 14 Nov. 2002