Bailing James out again. This is an old On Dit article I wrote a while ago. I was going to add to it with more current research, but not enough time and it seemed like too much effort. I’ll save it for another article.
People are idiots
After mentioning to him that I was going to write the next Disease of the week article on Ebola, a friend remarked “Ah, yes. Emulsification of the bodily organs…”. Movies and books (such as Outbreak, Rainbow 6 by Tom Clancy and The Hot Zone by Richard Preston) give Ebola a face that’s melting, disfigured and zombie-like. This is all Total Bullshit™. As a rule of thumb, anything entertaining is built out of lies.
Ebola haemorrhagic fever is a rather rare viral disease (totalling only ~1900 cases) that was discovered in 1976 after an outbreak in Sudan. It comes in four different subtypes, named after the place they were found in first: Ebola-Zaire, the most common and deadly strain with a 50-90% mortality rate; Ebola-Sudan, which has killed 404 of the 760 people it has infected; Ebola-Côte d’Ivoire, of which only two cases have been seen and so far non-fatal; and Ebola-Reston, found in Reston, Virginia in a bunch of macaques imported from the Philippines. Ebola-Reston was not found to cause disease in humans.
Ebola affects humans and other primates in much the same way. After an incubation period of 2 to 21 days, the infected patient will suddenly feel tired, extremely weak and feverish. Patients also are lacking in blood platelets and white blood cells. Other possible early symptoms include muscle aches, headaches and loss of appetite. Later stages may produce abdominal pains, nausea, diarrhoea, painful or difficulty in swallowing, bleeding into the gastrointestinal tract, bleeding at puncture sites and mucous membranes and, strangely, hiccups. In past outbreaks, hiccups were only present in the more serious cases, whereas survivors showed no sign of them.
Severe cases of Ebola haemorrhagic fever can also cause dangerously low blood pressure, rapid breath, shock, decreased urine production, widespread tissue death (particularly in the liver) and coma. Death usually occurs due to organ failure (usually kidneys or liver) or shock due to low blood pressure.
The name of haemorrhagic fever is a bit of a misnomer. Although the virus does attack blood-vessel walls and make them leakier, not all cases produce uncontrollable bleeding as a result. In the last large outbreak in 1995, excessive bleeding occurred only in half of the patients. These leakier vessels can leak fluid into surrounding tissues, thereby lowering blood pressure and causing pulmonary oedema (fluid filling the lungs).
There is little treatment available to Ebola victims. Generally, patients are simply pumped full of fluids to prevent dehydration and sinking blood pressure, and left to their own devices to get over it. Patients who recover from the disease are emaciated and weak. Many months of rehabilitation have to be endured for the survivors to even walk again. The virus can still be present in fluids for over 60 days after recovery.
A so-called “reservoir” for the Ebola virus has not yet been found. A reservoir is a host species which the virus causes (usually) asymptomatic infection, so that it can survive in the environment. Viruses just lying around for long periods of time are usually degraded, so must be sustained in some living species. Since primates are equally as affected as humans, the reservoir is not likely to be a species of monkey. Viruses that kill their hosts efficiently are selected against by natural selection. This is because a virus requires living cells to keep replicating. If its host is dead, it can no longer spread and therefore it becomes less common. Bats are suspected to be reservoirs, but no studies have confirmed it.
Contracting the disease occurs when coming in contact with the fluids of dead or alive infected animals or people. Health care workers have been infected due to improper isolation techniques and reuse of non-sterilised equipment. There are no treatments or vaccines for humans that are effective against ebola virus, although there have been some successful experimental vaccines for other primates.
As you can see, although it is based on a foundation of truth, even the worst case scenario of Ebola is nothing like the glamorised tripe of Hollywood. Next time Outbreak is on, you can tell your friends all the bullshit it purports and be shunned like the intellectual snob you are. Do it for Uncle Thomas. Do it for the truth.