Ebola: Symptoms, Causes and Treatment

Ebola: Symptoms, Causes and Treatment


Ebola is one of the most feared diseases. Although rare, it is a deadly disease caused by the Ebola virus, a member of filoviruses. The disease is known to cause fever of higher than 38.3°C, headaches, joint and muscular pain, vomiting, and internal and external body bleeding. This is why it easily confused with malaria.

More than 20 000 cases of Ebola have been reported since its first appearance in 1976 in Yambuku (a village near Ebola River in DRC which the disease was named after). The West African outbreak that occurred in 2014-2016 remains the largest ever in recorded history. Approximately 90% of people infected with Ebola die 1 to 3 weeks from first symptoms. Low blood pressure as a result of fluid loss is the major cause of death.

How Is Ebola Transmitted?

The natural hosts of Ebola are fruit bats. A person gets infected by Ebola by contact with skin, organs, blood, or other bodily fluids of infected animals like fruit bats, monkeys, forest antelopes, and gorillas. The disease is then transmitted among humans through direct contact with blood or body fluids such as secretions, vomit, and feces from an infected person or body of a person who died from Ebola.

An infected person with Ebola can only spread the disease after symptoms develop.

Who is at Risk?

  • Health care providers attending patients with suspected or confirmed Ebola.
  • Close relatives who directly take care of a sick person
  • People who directly handle and bury the unprotected body of an infected person.

What Are The Clinical Presentations of Ebola?

It takes 2 to 21 days for the symptoms of Ebola to appear after infection. Initially, the symptoms are non-specific appearings like those seen in flu, malaria or other infections and include:

As the diseases progress the person presents with:

  • Vomiting
  • Nausea
  • Diarrhea
  • Bleeding inside and outside the body
  • Rash

How Is Ebola Diagnosed?

Symptoms of Ebola alone cannot be used to tell if a person is suffering from the disease. Diagnostic tests are done to rule other infectious diseases that present as Ebola, such as Malaria, typhoid, and cholera.

Blood and oral fluids from a live person are the preferred samples for diagnosis of Ebola. The samples pose extreme biohazard risk and must be handled with a lot of care.

A suspected person should be isolated from the public as the investigations are done to prevent the spread.

Treatment of Ebola

Sadly, researchers have not found a cure for Ebola.  The first-ever multi-drug randomized control trial is ongoing in DRC. Let’s hope it will become successful to help treat Ebola. Supportive care and treatment of specific symptoms have been shown to improve survival rates. This include:

  • Fluid and electrolytes replacement
  • Blood transfusion
  • Blood pressure drugs
  • Oxygen therapy

How Can Ebola be Prevented and Controlled?

Vaccines are highly effective in protection against illness. But, there is no approved vaccine against Ebola despite various trials.  rVSV-ZEBOV vaccine has been found to have 70-100% protection against Ebola.

Control of Ebola can be achieved through:

  • Reducing contact with infected animals, like fruit bats, monkey, and chimpanzees which are known to spread the disease to humans.
  • Wearing masks, gloves, and other personal protective equipment taking care of an infected person.
  • Safe and dignified burial of the body of an infected person and contact tracing of people in contact with the infected person.
  • Safe sex and hygiene for males who recover from Ebola until there semen test negative.
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