The Origins of Ebola

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The Ebola virus continues to plague West Africa with the death toll climbing to over 4,000. The countries of Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone are desperately trying to contain the virus as more people are falling sick than they have room for in their hospitals. This is the worst virus outbreak thus far and is now a global concern. The world wants to know, what is Ebola? How is this virus spreading and where did this virus originate?

What is Ebola?

The Ebola virus is a hemorrhagic fever virus. Infected people first experience a fever, diarrhea, sore throats and weakened muscles. As the virus progresses it attacks the person’s kidneys and liver causing internal and external bleeding. The disease is very deadly. More than half of those infected do not survive.

How does Ebola spread?

Ebola is spread from coming into contact with the bodily fluids and blood of an infected person. In Western Africa, it is custom to kiss your loved ones goodbye at burials. As a result, the spread of the virus quickly infects family members of the deceased before the health experts can identify the source of the deaths as Ebola and alert the masses.

The infection period is much longer than other viruses. A person who becomes infected may not exhibit the virus symptoms until 21 days later. This person can then spread the virus to others during the 21 day time period before others realize they should stay away. The virus also stays within the body long after male survivors have recovered from their symptoms. It was discovered that semen samples taken from male survivors tested positive for the Ebola virus up to two months after recovering. Unknowingly, these survivors could then infect their spouses.

Where did Ebola originate?

The virus was first recorded in 1976 in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Sudan, earning it’s name after the Ebola River. Where the virus originates from is still a great mystery. What scientists do know is we are not the only animals that the virus infects. Primates like the chimpanzee and ape tested positive for a strand of the Ebola virus. Scientists discovered the Ebola virus has five strands of which four attack humans and only one seems to target other primates. Apes and chimpanzees are not the source of the virus. They are simply the victims like us humans.

It is speculated but not proven that the fruit bats are the source of the virus. Like in Asia, fruit bats are eaten by locals of West Africa as a food delicacy. The high cooking temperatures for cooking the bat meat could kill the virus. However, the food handler skinning and prepping the meat before cooking is susceptible. For this reason, the public health officials are urging people to not eat the bats. This though is the least of the people’s worries. Right now the people hardest hit are currently more focused on saving their loved ones and not starving to death. Since the Ebola outbreak, businesses have closed and people are forced to stay home to contain the spread of the Ebola virus. But with no work there is no income to buy food. The towns under lock down are struggling to just find food to feed their families never mind worry about fruit bats.

Reference:

“2014 Ebola Outbreak in West Africa.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. October 10, 2014. Accessed October 13, 2014.

 

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