What About Ebola?

What About Ebola?

12:31pm Oct 20, 2014

SciWorks Radio is a production of 88.5 WFDD and SciWorks, the Science Center and Environmental Park of Forsyth County, located in Winston-Salem.

Ebola has been making headlines, becoming an epidemic in West Africa, and there are a few cases here in the United States. Ebola is a virus; a small particle a thousand times smaller than a single-celled bacteria. It can’t reproduce on its own. 


Ebola attaches to a living cell, and feeds it genetic information which forces the cell to produce more of the virus. Viruses have evolved to many shapes and sizes in order to suit their particular situation. What does Ebola look like?

If you look at it under a microscope it looks like a thread, so we call it a filovirus which means thread virus.

That’s Dr. Christopher Ohl, M.D., infectious diseases expert at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center and medical director of communicable diseases for the Forsyth County Health Department.

It comes from certain areas of central and western Africa. There’s some evidence that this virus is coming from bats. Either the bat is getting it from somewhere else, or the bat is the origin of it. And then it probably gets into the monkeys and chimpanzees and gorillas. And if a human happens to kill one of those for its meat, that's how we think that humans ultimately get it.

Chicken pox, measles and mumps are all viruses preventable through vaccination, and manageable through treatment. The common cold is virus. But in comparison, Ebola is particularly nasty.

The initial symptoms of Ebola is a high fever usually with headache and body aches. People tend to have a lot of problems with their stomach and intestines. They will have problems with vomiting and diarrhea. After that the virus starts to affect the body so that it can't keep its blood and fluids inside the blood vessels. Then it leaks out into the tissues which makes your blood pressure go low, and it makes your certain organs not function as well, including your brain and maybe your kidneys. And if that gets severe enough, that person might die.

There is no cure for Ebola, but an infected individual has a chance for survival if given proper care.

Giving them back the fluids that they're losing through their leaky blood vessels and giving back your sodium and potassium, as well as calcium and all these ions that our cells need to live. We call it supportive care. Its doing everything you can to give the person's body its best chances of getting through it and the other person will then develop their own immunity and fight the virus off. And that does happen.

How is Ebola transmitted?

If you had Ebola but you didn't know it, you wouldn’t be contagious, you wouldn’t give it to other people. People really are contagious only after they start to become ill with it. So the sicker you are with Ebola, the more contagious you are. So early on you’re really not all that contagious. But once you start throwing up that's when you become the most contagious. And the way you get it is by direct contact with the fluids of patients. So potentially their saliva, maybe even their sweat, but even more so their vomit, their diarrhea and their blood.

The medical community prevents the spread of infectious diseases by using “contact investigations.” described as an onion layer technique”, all recent contacts of an infected individual are watched for symptoms. Any of those who show symptoms has their recent contacts observed in the same way, and so-on. This method is in place, and has been tested and proven effective. So how worried should you be about an Ebola outbreak in the United States? Probably about as worried as the medical community.

I really don't spend a lot of time worrying about Ebola. I'm more worried about influenza season coming up because every year we lose fifteen to twenty thousand people. And thats a preventable death because you can get flu vaccines. But I do spend a lot of time thinking about it and planning for it because it's really important that healthcare facilities be ready. I think that through early identification of patients and doing contact investigations that we can keep things under control. I don't think anyone really thinks that they'll be large community-based epidemic of Ebola in the US. I certainly don't think so the average American in the U.S. doesn't really have much to worry about but there are communities that are thinking about it and one of those is the Liberian community; this has really affected their lives. And their loved ones are getting sick back at home, so I think we do need to keep in mind that some of us are having to live with this little bit closer than others.

This Time Round, the theme music for SciWorks Radio, appears as a generous contribution by the band Storyman and courtesy of UFOmusic.com. 


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