General Science Bullet – The deadly outbreak of Ebola – Capsule 1

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Considered to be the deadliest outbreak till date, Ebola, was in the news after its first case was reported in March 2014 in western Africa. It was declared as an international emergency by the World Health Organization (WHO) as the disease started to claim lives rapidly.

In this article, we will talk about the Ebola virus, its origin and history.

What is the Ebola virus?

1. Ebola hemorrhagic fever (or Ebola) is a lethal disease caused by the strains of a virus from the family Filoviridae, named Ebolavirus.

2. There are five known strains of the ebolavirus out of which only four cause disease in humans: Ebola/Zaire virus, Sudan virus, Tai forest virus and Bundibugyo virus.

3. The fifth is Reston virus, known to cause diseases only in non-human primates (monkeys, gorillas and chimpanzees). The Ebola/Zaire virus is the most potent and hence the most fatal.

4. When infected with ebola virus, between 2 to 21 days the person shows symptoms like sudden fever, nausea, intense weakness and muscle pain and internal bleeding. The virus has reportedly claimed lives of over 90% of the people infected by it.

Ebola’s origin, history and prevalence in Africa

1. The origin of this virus is not known, however, the fruit bats (family pteropodidae) are suspected to be the primary host reservoir for it.

2. It first appeared in the year 1976 causing two simultaneous outbreaks in Yambuku in the Democratic Republic of Congo (initially known as Zaire) and in Nzara in Sudan.

3. It is named after the Ebola river in Zaire.

4. The recent outbreak in western Africa is the most complex and largest since it discovery in 1976. The strains associated with large outbreaks in africa are Bundibugyo ebolavirus, Zaire ebolavirus, and Sudan ebolavirus whilst the Zaire ebolavirus alone is primarily responsible for the west African outbreak.

5. Most severely affected countries were Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia. Ebola virus is introduced into the human populations through close contact with wildlife i.e contact with the blood, organs and other bodily fluids of chimpanzees, fruit bats, gorillas, monkeys, porcupines and other animals in the rainforest.

6. It spreads between humans via direct contact e.g through bodily fluids, broken skin, mucous membranes, and secretions of infected people and through contact with infected surfaces like clothing and bedding of patients.

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