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What is Ebola?

Updated on June 8, 2019
stephaniedas profile image

Stephanie is a public health student with a special interest in emerging infectious diseases.

Ebola Virus  Scanning electron micrograph of Ebola virus budding from the surface of a Vero cell (African green monkey kidney epithelial cell line).
Ebola Virus Scanning electron micrograph of Ebola virus budding from the surface of a Vero cell (African green monkey kidney epithelial cell line). | Source

Ebola Virus Disease is sometimes called Ebola Hemorrhagic Fever.

Ebola virus disease is sometimes called Ebola Hemorrhagic Fever because some strains can cause hemorrhage, or bleeding, inside or outside of the infected person's body. It is caused by a group of RNA viruses that attack the human immune system. It can also infect primates, antelopes, bats, and pigs.

Signs and symptoms of ebola virus disease.
Signs and symptoms of ebola virus disease. | Source

Signs and Symptoms of Ebola

Ebola virus disease is severe and can be fatal about 50% of the time. It will make a person sick for about 7-14 days. Signs and symptoms include: fever, body aches, sore throat​, lack of appetite​, nausea​, vomiting​, diarrhea​, dehydration​, shortness of breath​, swelling​, confusion, rash, decreased blood clotting, and bleeding. Once a person recovers from the disease, they will have antibodies for up to ten years. This means that once a person recovers from ebola, they cannot catch the disease for at least ten years.

Detection and Treatment of Ebola Virus

If it is possible that a person has been exposed to ebola virus and they are showing symptoms, they must be isolated immediately. Public health officials will conduct thorough investigation and try to identify all of that person's contacts, as well as the contacts' contacts. The only way to be sure that a person has the disease is with a blood test. Even so, antibodies for ebola virus might not show up in a person's blood until several days after they have become sick.


There is no specific treatment for ebola, so doctors try to control the fever and keep the person well hydrated. They might give them medicine for diarrhea and vomiting, or something to help their blood clot. People who are given good health care have good chances of surviving the disease. As of June 2019, there has only been one death from ebola in the United States. The person who died was the first ebola patient in the country, and he was showing symptoms before he arrived in the US.

Ebola Virus Particles  Colorized scanning electron micrograph of filamentous Ebola virus particles (yellow) attached to and budding from a chronically infected VERO E6 cell (red) (25,000x magnification).
Ebola Virus Particles Colorized scanning electron micrograph of filamentous Ebola virus particles (yellow) attached to and budding from a chronically infected VERO E6 cell (red) (25,000x magnification). | Source

How to prevent ebola virus


Ebola virus spreads through direct contact with an infected person. It is not airborne. It can enter your body through your mucous membranes or a cut. This is why hand washing, avoiding contact with people or animals that might be infected, and using personal protective equipment when working with ebola patients is very effective at protecting people from acquiring the disease.

During the West African Ebola epidemic of 2013-2016, local people noticed that anyone who came in contact with the body of a deceased loved one was contracting the virus. Local organizations began to work with people to make funerals and burials safer in order to prevent the disease from spreading.

Health care workers learn how to properly dispose of the remains of a simulated patient who died from Ebola.
Health care workers learn how to properly dispose of the remains of a simulated patient who died from Ebola. | Source

How is ebola transmitted?


Ebola is considered a zoonosis, meaning that is is transferred from animals to humans. It is believed that humans came into contact with the virus by interacting with infected animals during hunting.


Between humans, ebola is communicable through contact with bodily fluids. It enters the body through breaks in skin or mucous membranes. Even after a person has recovered, it can be present in certain body fluids.

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    • stephaniedas profile imageAUTHOR

      Stephanie Das 

      2 years ago from Miami, US

      Hi Lorna, Thank you for the comment! I am happy that you found it interesting. The previous epidemic was in the news, but this one doesn't appear to be getting much coverage. Unfortunately there isn't much we can do unless we have healthcare expertise, aside from donate and talk about the events. I'm glad that people like you are reading!

    • Lorna Lamon profile image

      Lorna Lamon 

      2 years ago

      This is a very interesting article. I remember the epidemic in West Africa and its destructive effects. Education is definitely the best way to prevent such an outbreak happening again. Thank you for sharing.

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