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Scientific background


Where can I learn more about the Ebola virus?

The following sites contain substantial information about the Ebola virus:

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What is Ebola?

The Ebola virus, first identified in 1976 and named after the Ebola river near its outbreak, is a member of the filovirus family. The virus, which is shaped like a long, flexible filament, attaches to and drives itself into the cell. It then replicates efficiently, budding out numerous copies of itself from the cell. The virus attacks several types of cells, including important cells of the immune system that circulate and carry the virus throughout the body. The damage includes inappropriate clotting, leakage from blood vessels, inflammation, organ failure and shock. When a person is first infected, there is a two to 21 day incubation period before the infected person shows symptoms. Initial symptoms can closely resemble those caused by flu or common tropical diseases and progress to include high fever, vomiting, diarrhea, dehydration and more. Contact with an infected person's fluids or the body of a patient that died from disease can infect the next person.

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How is Ebola currently controlled?

Infected people are best treated at special facilities which can best treat their symptoms and which can isolate their bodily fluids and keep them from infecting others. If special facilities are not available, bleach is used to disinfect everything that touches or comes from the patient. Treatment consists of re-hydration and treating the patients' symptoms. The patient may survive the disease if his own immune system is able to clear the virus before it has caused too much damage. Some experimental treatments have been used, but their efficacy is uncertain.

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What are the symptoms of Ebola?

When a person is first infected, there is a two to 21 day incubation period before the infected person shows symptoms. Initial symptoms can closely resemble those caused by flu or common tropical diseases. Symptoms progress to include high fever, vomiting, diarrhea, dehydration, bleeding and more.

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Where in the world is Ebola most common?

Most outbreaks have occurred in central Africa (Gabon, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Uganda), but in 2014, a sustained epidemic in Western Africa sickened patients in Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Senegal, Nigeria, and Mali. Some of these people traveled to the United States, Germany, Spain, and England for treatment. Another species in the ebolavirus genus, Reston virus, exists naturally in Asia where it has been found among non-human primates and domesticated swine in China and the Philippines.

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What is the difference between a vaccine and an antiviral drug?

A vaccine gives your body immunity to the particular species of virus that the vaccine was manufactured to address. Once a person receives this vaccine and the immune system learns how to defend against the disease (typically 2 or more weeks), immunity to the disease is thought to last. Antiviral drugs are used to treat a viral disease once a person has contracted it and has no prior immunity, or if vaccination somehow failed to prevent infection. As of the start of this project, there are no approved vaccines or antiviral drugs that exist for Ebola. An antiviral drug could complement vaccines or antibody treatments because the antiviral would target the virus in a different way. Thus this project aims to discover an effective antiviral drug to fight Ebola.

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