A movie, Outbreak, came out some years back and it put the threat of the Ebola virus smack dab in my face. Never, at that time, had I heard of a real-life present-day killer virus. Of course I learned about the Black Plague that occurred centuries ago killing masses of people. But in my day, no. Nothing outside of the common cold. It was horrifying. But this movie was fiction, right? The truth that it was based on is what this essay will focus on. This paper will explore the origins, types, causes/effects, and what is being done to fight the spread of this century’s new Black Plague.
It is believed that this virus has been in hiding since ancient times. The lack of knowledge about it’s natural history and reservoirs keeps researchers seeking out the mysterious virus that has no treatment or cure. Based on the available evidence and comparisons of similar viruses, researchers believed the virus to be animal-borne and that the host animal is native to Africa. Their attempts have been unsuccessful, and the source of the virus or where it circulates in between outbreaks is unknown.
There is but one other virus similar to the Ebola, which is a Filovirus, and that is Marburg. Ebola has a 90% death rate, whereas, Marburg is not as deadly. Their long and ropelike shape rather than roundness, as is most other viruses, characterize Filoviruses. Ebola is contracted very much like HIV: bodily fluids such as blood, vomit, sharing needles, and sexual contact. The only difference is that Ebola can be transmitted from the close contact of an infected person, which is the most common means of infection.
This is possible because the Ebola virus has cells on the infected person’s skin. For example, should you touch someone with the virus and then an opening on your body, like your mouth, you can be infected. This is why and how so many health care workers and family members are contaminated before a diagnosis is made. Unlike the movie, Outbreak, Ebola has an incubation period of 2-21 days depending on how one acquired the virus: direct (needle) or less direct (close contact) contact. Direct contact is far deadlier than the latter.
The virus’ name is taken from the Ebola River in Zaire (now known as Democratic Republic of the Congo), the site of the initial outbreak in 1976. The primary symptoms are flu-like: sore throat, muscle pain, headaches, and weakness. Then, as it advances, vomiting, diarrhea, rash, and limited kidney and liver functions occur. After about two weeks severe and uncontrollable bleeding through every bodily orifice and the skin transpires. One’s mental abilities are also affected. Internally, one’s organs bleed and began to liquefy.
This is a result of the virus annihilating liver cells and the lining of the organs. Death is imminent. Four known subtypes of Ebola are known to exist: Ebola Zaire, Sudan, Reston, and Tai. As stated before, the Ebola Zaire was the original strain and Zaire was the location of the first outbreak in 1976. During that same year, another outbreak of the second strain appeared in Sudan. Between the two, there were 550 cases and 340 deaths. Another outbreak of the Ebola Zaire strain appeared again in Zaire in 1995 resulting in 233 deaths. The following year, Gabon was suffering from the same.
The onset of the outbreak was the finding and eating of a dead chimp by a village: ninety-five people were infected and seventy of them died. Another disparity between the movie and actual fact was that although Ebola appeared in the United States, it was not deadly. There is where the third strain was identified: Ebola Reston. It was named after the city where the virus was found. The strain appeared as a result of an imported monkey from the Philippines. It was concluded that the virus was air-borne, but it posed no threat to humans, only to monkeys.
The last strain to be found was Ebola Tai. The outbreak occurred in 1995 in Cote d’Ivoire and killed off many chimps living in the Tai forest. A Swiss researcher was infected by a chimp in the forest. She did not die though. Researchers searched the forest in a failed attempt to locate the origin of the virus. The idea that a vaccine could be developed and distributed in a day as the movie suggests is a fascinating accomplishment, but real life dictates otherwise. Because the virus’ host animal (if there is one) nor its locale can be identified and the fact that there is no knowledge about the inner workings of the virus, very few measures can be taken. So, prevention seems to be a more useful approach.
Since rural African countries have poor public sanitation, improvements are needed. Education about the virus and how it is contracted need to be widespread. Health care facilities need proper instruction and equipment to guard against contamination and spreading the virus as well as how to identify and test it. Also, the quarantining of infected persons and the proper disposal of infected waste and corpses are needed.
Researchers hypothesize that the incubation period of the Ebola virus is too short for worldwide infection. For that reason, Ebola should not be underestimated. Humans tend to forget that we are fragile beings and still relatively new to the earth compared to viruses and the like. Because little is known about this mysterious disease that causes outbreaks here and there every now and then and especially since there have been four different types of strains of varying severity already identified, the world needs to worry.