Decoding EBOLA Virus Disease

(Last Updated On: December 7, 2016)

Ebola virus disease

Ebola first appeared in 1976 in 2 simultaneous outbreaks in Sudan and Congo. The Congo episode took place in a village situated near the Ebola River, from which the disease takes its name. Some species of fruit bats are considered possible natural hosts for Ebola virus. As a result, the geographic distribution of Ebola viruses may overlap with the range of the fruit bats.


Key facts

  • Ebola virus disease (EVD), formerly known as Ebola haemorrhagic fever, is a severe, often fatal illness in humans.
  • EVD outbreaks have a case fatality rate of up to 90%.
  • EVD outbreaks occur primarily in remote villages in Central and West Africa, near tropical rainforests.
  • The virus is transmitted to people from wild animals and spreads in the human population through human-to-human transmission.
  • Severely ill patients require intensive supportive care. No specific treatment or vaccine is available for use in people or animals.

Ebola virus comprises 5 distinct species. The African species have been associated with large EVD outbreaks; the species found in Philippines and China, can infect humans, but no illness or death in humans from this species has been reported to date.



Ebola is introduced into the human population through close contact with the blood, secretions, organs or other bodily fluids of infected animals.

Ebola then spreads in the community through human-to-human transmission, with infection resulting from direct contact (through broken skin or mucous membranes) with the blood, secretions, organs or other bodily fluids of infected people, and indirect contact with environments contaminated with such fluids.

Health-care workers have frequently been infected while treating patients with suspected or confirmed EVD. This has occurred through close contact with patients when infection control precautions are not strictly practiced.


Signs and symptoms

EVD is a severe acute viral illness often characterized by:

  • Sudden onset of fever
  • Intense weakness
  • Muscle pain
  • Headache
  • Sore throat.
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhoea
  • Rash
  • Impaired kidney and liver function

It is not always possible to identify patients with EBV early because initial symptoms may be non-specific. Laboratory findings include low white blood cell and platelet counts and elevated liver enzymes.

People are infectious as long as their blood and secretions contain the virus. The incubation period, that is, the time interval from infection with the virus to onset of symptoms, is 2 to 21 days.



Other diseases that should be ruled out before a diagnosis of EVD can be made include: Dengue, Chikungunya, shigellosis, cholera, leptospirosis, rickettsiosis, relapsing fever, meningitis, hepatitis and other viral haemorrhagic fevers.

Ebola virus infections can be diagnosed definitively in a laboratory through several types of tests, consult your doctor at the earliest


Vaccine and treatment

  • No vaccine for EVD is available, as yet. Several vaccines are being tested, but none are available for clinical use.
  • Severely ill patients require intensive supportive care. Patients are frequently dehydrated and require oral rehydration with solutions containing electrolytes or intravenous fluids.
  • No specific treatment is available. New drug therapies are being evaluated.


Prevention and control

Reducing the risk of Ebola infection in people

  • In the absence of effective treatment and a human vaccine, raising awareness of the risk factors for Ebola infection and the protective measures individuals can take is the only way to reduce human infection and death.
  • Reducing the risk of wildlife-to-human transmission from contact with infected fruit bats or monkeys/apes and the consumption of their raw meat.
  • Animals should be handled with gloves and other appropriate protective clothing. Animal products (blood and meat) should be thoroughly cooked before consumption.
  • Close physical contact with Ebola patients, particularly with their bodily fluids should be avoided. Gloves and appropriate personal protective equipment should be worn when taking care of ill patients at home. Regular hand washing is required after visiting patients in hospital, as well as after taking care of patients at home.
  • People who have died from Ebola should be promptly and safely buried.
  • Gloves and other appropriate protective clothing should be worn when handling sick animals or their tissues and when slaughtering animals.


Ebola in India

Although no outbreak of the disease has been seen in India as yet, the probability of risk from International travelers, especially from Africa is always present. All possible measures are being undertaken at International airports arrival areas, especially from passengers arriving from Africa.

The Ministry of Health, in coordination with Ministries of Home Affairs (Immigration Department), External Affairs and Civil Aviation, is constantly tracking passengers arriving in India from the West African countries affected by Ebola.



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