Ebola: Deadly, Highly Contagious, and Not Vaccinated

Why Ebola is So Dangerous

Ebola is transmitted through direct contact with the blood or mucous membranes of infected people, their dead bodies, or items contaminated by those fluids. It can also be spread by eating raw bushmeat (such as the meat of wild animals like bats and monkeys) or by sexual transmission, including the virus persisting in semen in some men who have recovered from the disease for months.

It Infects Blood Cells

Ebola is a very deadly disease that typically occurs in small outbreaks in remote areas of Africa. But in 2014, an unprecedented epidemic erupted in three West African countries, killing 11,316 people and crippling local health systems.

The virus spreads by contact with the blood of a person who has the illness. Health care workers have been a frequent source of transmission, but so have villagers who prepare bodies for burial and family members who have lost someone to the disease. Even contaminated sweat, saliva and feces can transmit the virus.

The drug ZMapp can be used to treat people already infected with the disease. It contains antibodies, large Y-shaped proteins that recognize and bind to a portion of the virus’s glycoprotein and block it from entering the cell. But the drugs don’t offer lifelong immunity, and other ways to combat the disease are desperately needed. The outbreak in DRC is especially alarming because it threatens the last remaining chimpanzees and gorillas in the wild.

It Kills

Ebola kills because it destroys immune cells, which are needed to protect us from viruses. Once these cells are infected, they start to die and send signals that make blood vessels more permeable, which means arteries and veins leak out too much blood. This triggers a massive release of inflammatory chemicals called cytokines, which damage the heart and lungs, cause diarrhea, and starve organs of oxygen.

Scientists don’t know exactly where ebola comes from, but they suspect fruit bats are the natural reservoir for the virus. The virus spreads from human to human through direct contact with infected body fluids, including blood, urine, saliva, sweat, feces, vomit, breast milk, and semen. It also spreads through the use of needles contaminated with infected body fluids or from touching a bare chest of someone who is sick.

Women have been in the front line of the fight against ebola both occupationally and domestically. In health facilities, they were assisting the sick and in their homes they were caring for infected family members. Women were also involved in community education, contact tracing and advocacy in support of the national response to the outbreak.

It’s Highly Contagious

Ebola can be spread only by direct contact with blood, organs or bodily fluids from an infected person. This means people who have EVD need to be isolated and treated in hospitals, where they are often treated by other staff members who wear full PPE (protective gear) including masks, gowns and gloves. All needles and equipment used to treat people with EVD must be disposed of properly, too.

People infected with EVD are most likely to have been exposed to bats, the primary reservoir of the virus, or to wild animals like forest antelopes, chimpanzees and gorillas. Ebola is also known to cause illness in humans who have eaten the meat of such animals.

The deadly ebola virus is one of five different subtypes of the Filovirus genus, and it can be spread among nonhuman primates (that includes chimpanzees and gorillas). It is a zoonotic disease that has been responsible for large epidemics in Africa.

It’s Not Vaccinated

Ebola spreads by direct contact with a person’s blood or bodily fluids, as well as contaminated objects like bedding and needles. It’s also possible to catch it from a dead body, which is why people who work in the health care industry should practice proper PPE when handling dead patients.

Once the virus enters a person’s blood, it immediately zeroes in on and infects cells in our immune system, says virologist Gaya Amarasinghe of Washington University in St. Louis. Then, it tricks our immune systems into triggering a massive release of inflammatory chemicals known as cytokines. The cytokines make our blood vessels more permeable, so arteries, veins and capillaries start to leak blood and plasma.

That causes a hemorrhagic fever that can kill you quickly. It can also cause multi-system organ failure that leads to shock, making it harder for your heart, lungs and kidneys to function. The disease also causes a high rate of long-term complications, such as hepatitis, psychosis and spinal cord injury.

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