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  Q&A: Ebola virus
Updated 07 April 2003, 18.08
People have to protect themselves from infection
What is Ebola?

Ebola - or Ebola haemorrhagic fever (EHF) - is one of the most infectious viruses known.

Fifty to 90% of people who catch it die from it.

But there are a few forms of the virus which have been identified by scientists.

Where has it come from?

Ebola was first spotted in the African countries of Sudan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo in 1976.

In the space of five months in that year, 284 people in Sudan caught the virus. It killed 117 of them.

The Ebola virus
The Ebola virus

The Congo saw 318 cases of infections in one month alone in that same year, which caused 280 deaths.

There were further outbreaks in the two countries in 1977 and 1979.

Since then, over 1,500 cases have been spotted altogether, with about 1,000 of those ending in death.

What's it got to do with monkeys?

It's thought Ebola is carried by monkeys too - their numbers have been badly affected by the virus.

But they were infected from another source, which scientists aren't sure about yet.

Have there been bad outbreaks recently?

There have been more recent outbreaks including:

  • 1994-95: One human case and several cases in chimpanzees in Côte d'Ivoire
  • 1995: 315 human cases, 244 died in the Democratic Republic of the Congo
  • 1994 and 1996: First human cases in Gabon
  • 2000: Outbreak in northern Uganda.

What are the symptoms?

Symptoms of Ebola happen fast.

They include:

  • Sudden fever
  • Weakness
  • Muscle pain
  • Headache
  • Sore throat
This is usually followed by more serious symptoms:
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhoea
  • Rash
  • Bad kidney and liver function
  • Internal and external bleeding - this is where the "haemorrhagic" bit comes in.

How do you get it?

In a similar way to HIV, you can catch it through direct contact with the body fluids of an infected person.

But scientists think Ebola has also been spread by handling dead, infected chimpanzees.

Healthcare workers who have looked after sick patients have also been infected.

Is there a cure?

There is no cure for Ebola, nor is there any treatment or vaccine.

But scientists have discovered a common west African plant called Garcinia kola, which has been found to stop the virus in lab tests.

Tests are yet to prove it helps humans and animals though.

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