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Ebola Explained

By Alana Farkas

Thirty-three years ago, when the first report of Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS) appeared in the United States, the number of people infected with the virus was countable. By the end of 1981, five to six new people contracted the virus each week.

Though these numbers were significant in the 1980s, they are meager compared to today’s 35 million people globally who are living with Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV), a precursor to AIDS.

Is Ebola any different? According to the World Health Organization’s (WHO) latest report, a handful of United States citizens has been infected with Ebola while over 10,000 cases have been confirmed in African countries including Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone. Officials believe the real numbers are even higher, and the WHO projects 10,000 Ebola deaths per week by December 2014. Is Ebola the next AIDS?

Ebola was first discovered in 1976. The viral disease was named after the Ebola River in what is now the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Africa. Since then, it has spread sporadically among humans and other mammals in past outbreaks.

Like AIDS, a person may acquire Ebola through contact of blood or other bodily fluids of an infected person. A person with Ebola will show symptoms within 2-21 days after contraction of the virus. These symptoms begin with a fever and sore throat, eventually worsening to liver and kidney failure, internal and external bleeding, and, if left untreated, death.

Viruses are tiny capsules of DNA that invade human cells so they are protected from antibiotics and other medication that flow through the human bloodstream. Each viral capsule uses the human cells to reproduce itself, eventually killing the cells.

The best treatment for viral infections is to let the body’s immune system fight off the virus. Have you ever heard your doctor say, “Let nature run its course” when you had the flu? When a virus enters your body, a protein called Interferon sends signals to your immune system to fight off the virus.

Unfortunately, Ebola is different. According to Business Insider author Erin Brodwin, “The virus hijacks the delivery process — preventing the immune system from organizing a coordinated attack.” Ebola targets Interferon so the immune system receives no message that a virus is present.

Eventually, the immune system will respond to Ebola in, as Brodwin calls it, “turbo mode.” The immune system fights so hard that the blood vessels become weak and leaky. That is why internal and external bleeding is a symptom of the disease and why the virus kills 70% of its victims. The body’s natural responses, not necessarily the virus, are what kills the victim.

Though Ebola has caused upsurges of fear, it does not have to become the next epidemic—that is if we take proper precautions.

Protection from Ebola follows the same rules as protection from AIDS: Avoid contact of bodily fluids with other people. This includes urine, vomit, and blood. Also, although studies are inconclusive, WHO says Ebola can spread through saliva at its most severe stage. Likewise, Ebola can be sexually transmitted. While Ebola cannot spread through skin contact, it is best to be cautious when using public facilities. Avoid touching your eyes or mouth. Always wash your hands before you eat.

Simply put, the best form of protection is being cautious. With the right sort of prudence, there  is no need for unnecessary worry.

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