The Healthy Dose – Ebola, Part 1


By Parth Dwivedi

Ebola has been in the news lately, with an outbreak in West Africa as well as the case of an American woman contracting the disease. Mounting international concerns for the containment and neutralization of this virus make it a topic worth discussing.

In 1976 two simultaneous outbreaks of Ebola in Sudan and in Democratic Republic of Congo, respectively, marked the first instances of this infection. The latter was in a village near the Ebola River, where the disease gets its name.

Generally Ebola refers to the disease caused by the virus, while the virus itself is called Ebolavirus. There are five species of Ebolavirus; some are more problematic than others. Different species contain slightly different DNA, which gives each slightly different characteristics. Two of the species are found in China and The Philippines and are considered to be less lethal. The remaining three species are highly contagious and are found throughout Africa.

Other viruses have been infecting people for some time with less dramatic effects. Think of the flu, which can be serious if not treated, although not as serious as Ebola. Why was Ebolavirus quiet until recently? It kept away from humans by plaguing fruit bats. It is no coincidence that the geographic distribution of Ebolavirus cases generally overlap with the range of fruit bats.

In this host the virus is not as destructive, mostly making fruit bats mere carriers of the infection. Hundreds of generations of evolution have rendered fruit bats and Ebolavirus able to tolerate one another. After all, a virus wants to survive and killing its own host is bad way to survive. Many animals can carry Ebola, but since the virus is predominantly found in fruit bats, they are termed the natural carrier. From here human contact with an infected animal brought the virus into our world.

The virus is carried in bodily fluids and is transmitted to other individuals through breaks in the skin. Theoretically you could touch infected bodily fluid with your bare hands and not become infected, but this is a very bad idea in actuality. Tiny cuts in the skin are common and often not obvious to the eyes—maybe a small spot where your skin might be a little drier or even that part of your forearm that bumped into the door on your way out. For this reason Ebolavirus is highly contagious

For more information be sure to check out the World Health Organization website.
Join us next week when we continue this article and talk about features, symptoms and treatment of Ebola.

Parth Dwivedi has a B.A. in Neuroscience and an M.S. in Biomedical Sciences. He likes reading non-fiction and still watches I Love Lucy.

Parth Dwivedi has a B.A. in Neuroscience and an M.S. in Biomedical Sciences. He likes reading non-fiction and still watches I Love Lucy.