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What is Ebola?

By Brendan McGuigan
Updated: Mar 03, 2024

Ebola is a deadly virus originating in parts of Africa. It is classified as a hemorrhagic fever, putting it in the same category as Marburg fever, Lassa fever, and Dengue fever. There are four varieties, named after their country of origin. Ebola Zaire, Ebola Cote d'Ivoire, and Ebola Sudan are all known to cause serious illness in human beings. Ebola Reston does not appear to cause illness in people.

The virus may be transmitted through bodily fluids such as blood and secretions. Well-established vectors for infection include handling other primates infected with Ebola, contact with infected corpses during funeral services, and touching infected patients without exercising proper caution. It is thought that the disease may be transferred through airborne particles, but so far there are no proven cases of this method of infection. Hospital staff are particularly susceptible to infection during an outbreak, particularly in the nations in which Ebola has so far occurred. Difficult economic conditions and a lack of access to proper sterilization and protective garments make nurses and doctors an easy target when they deal with patients who have been infected with this virus.

Contrary to popular misconception, Ebola does not kill within a matter of hours, and the virus will incubate for up to two weeks before symptoms begin to occur. These symptoms include a rapidly intensifying fever, horrible muscle pain, and debilitating weakness. Further symptoms may include diarrhea and vomiting, as well as both internal and external bleeding.

While popular media has presented the symptoms of Ebola as fast-acting and truly horrific visually, in most cases there is little external exhibition of the virus. While external bleeding may occur on occasion, it is rare, and the popular image of people "melting" or of internal organs literally liquefying is blown out of proportion. In fact, although it is classified as a hemorrhagic fever, less than half of cases ultimately result in hemorrhaging. When hemorrhaging does occur, however, it is certainly capable of some grotesque exhibitions, with bleeding possibly occurring from the mouth, genitals, nose, and beneath the skin.

The first outbreak of Ebola in which the virus was identified occurred in western Sudan and part of Zaire, now known as the Democratic Republic of Congo, in 1976. More than 600 people were infected, and more than 400 died. In 1995, a second large outbreak occurred in the Democratic Republic of Congo, infecting 315 people and killing 250. Since first being identified, more than 1,800 cases have been determined, of which 1,200 resulted in deaths, making it one of the most fatal viruses to affect humans.

There have been reports that ingesting an extract from a West African fruit helps to treat Ebola once it has been contracted; these reports have yet to be rigorously tested, however. Work on a vaccine is ongoing, with the recent success of a totally reliable vaccine for Ebola in monkeys. Though no human vaccine has been produced that yields positive results, the future is promising.

The Health Board is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Discussion Comments
By anon997536 — On Jan 23, 2017

I'm doing a world issue project and I was wondering what happens if you survive? Would you be immune to it?

By anon975055 — On Oct 23, 2014

@Betty 51: I found your post because today. I mentioned to a coworker that Ebola is the equivalent of Parvovirus. Of course, no one knew what I was talking about.

I also cured a dog by using coconut water, glucose water, kaopectate and prayers. This was the same dog that the vet told me would not live.

I also used bleach to clean the living quarters for the dogs. I also learned that shoes and tires could easily track parvo in our homes. So I avoid letting my puppies come in contact with shoes or tires.

By anon974699 — On Oct 20, 2014

Ebola is not a bacteria, not a germ. Ebola is a virus, a single-stranded RNA virus that attaches to cells and is internalized where it replicates.

By anon971126 — On Sep 23, 2014

It originated in the Congo region of Africa during the 1970s.

By Betty51 — On Aug 09, 2014

Has anybody heard about Parvo? It is a virus that affects dogs. The symptoms of Ebola and Parvo are similar: fever, diarrhea, vomiting.

Two of my dogs got Parvo. The virus attacks the intestinal tract and the dog dies in 7 days and also before dying, blood comes out from the rectum. The area where the dogs has been is infected and needs to be clean.

No other dogs are allowed in the house for six months because the virus stays that long in that area. I cured my last dog with a pill called Tagamet and other herbs that I prepare at home. This pill covers the intestinal track so the virus can't enter the organs and damage them.

Well, what I am trying to say is maybe they need to see if they can create a medicine that can protect the internal organs so the disease can slow down and they have time to test other methods of treatment. Sorry if I am trying to compare humans and dogs, but the vet told me that is no cure for Parvo and I saved two dogs after I saved my own dog. There is always a way.

By anon963986 — On Aug 01, 2014

Once again there it is -- a man made disease, just like AIDS. This is the total control of all governments. It always starts in third world countries and ends up all over the globe, because that's what they all want: death in very high numbers. So it's total control of the few who do survive. People open your eyes. The truth is out there.

By anon303907 — On Nov 17, 2012

I have a few questions: What sort of bacteria causes Ebola (other sites give different answers).

How did the disease get its name?

If the disease is caught, how can the doctors and nurses treat it? How could the people who are in an area where they are likely to catch it keep themselves from catching it?

By anon263350 — On Apr 24, 2012

How is Ebola caused by microbes?

By anon188776 — On Jun 21, 2011

How can ebola be calculated?

By sikkim — On May 23, 2010

to #2

The different ways of contracting Ebola are explained in the article as "vectors of infection."

The most common way to get Ebola is via the transfer of bodily fluids. Ebola can also be contracted through contact with infected corpses or handling infected primates.

Although there are no proven cases, it is believed that ebola may be transferred through airborne particles.

By anon5928 — On Dec 10, 2007

How do you contract the disease Ebola?

By anon5533 — On Nov 28, 2007

What germ is Ebola?

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