The Horrible Facts Behind the Ebola Virus

Okay okay, so there hasn’t been all that much hype about Ebola virus in the papers lately, but if you’re fascinated by the gruesome side of science, this virus will surely fill your nauseating science quota and save you a few dollars on horror flicks for, oh, 10 years or so.

In the opening scene of “The Hot Zone”, Richard Preston describes the attack of the virus on character Charles Monet’s body as the virus quickly engulfs its host: “On the third day after his headache started, he became nauseated, spiked a fever, and began to vomit. His vomiting grew intense and turned into dry heaves. At the same time, he became strangely passive. His face lost all appearance of life and set itself into an expressionless mask, with the eyeballs fixed, paralytic, and staring… The eyeballs themselves seemed almost frozen in their sockets, and they turned a bright red.”

This is the PG phase of the virus. Onward to the good stuff.

Monet is now on a small plane to Nairobi Hospital, the best private hospital in East Africa, where they hope to diagnose his symptoms and implement and effective treatment. At this point he looks like something from “28 Days Later”, only he’s not lusting after his fellow passenger’s innards. No, this virus is much more clever than that. It destroys its host, and while everyone is standing around trying to figure out why in God’s name this man’s eyes are drooping out of their sockets, it hops on the next unsuspecting host train. Sneaky sneaky.

Back to Monet: “He is holding an airsickness bag over his mouth. He coughs a deep cough and regurgitates something into the bag. The bag swells up. Perhaps he glances around, and then you see that his lips are smeared with something slippery and red, mixed with black specks, as if he has been chewing coffee grounds. His eyes are the color of rubies, and his face is an expressionless mass of bruises… his whole head is turning black and blue… The connective tissue in his face is dissolving, and his face appears to hang from the underlying bone, as if the face is detaching itself from the skull. He opens his mouth and gasps into the bag, and the vomiting goes on endless.”

Fascinating, huh? The best part, however, is when he hands his highly infected vom-bag to the flight attendant. Nice, Monet, real classy. Not even a ‘thank you for disposing of my off the bio-hazard charts Ebola vom-stew.’

So where does this horrifying virus come from? How does it spread? How can we make sure we don’t contract it and bleed out from every orifice?

For one thing, don’t adopt a pet monkey. Aside from the possibility of it getting upset and ripping off an unsuspecting friend’s face, it could also be an Ebola host. During outbreaks, the virus has been detected in carcasses of gorillas, chimpanzees, and duikers which in the past have been the usual source of human infections. However, the high mortality from infection in these species makes them unlikely candidates as the virus’s natural reservoir. The most likely natural host, scientists have discovered, are actually bats. During the Marburg infections in 1975 and 1980, the bats known to reside in the cotton factory where these index cases occurred, were found to be infected. Because they didn’t show symptoms, they’re thought to be the Ebola virus’s natural host. When these bats drop partially eaten fruits drenched in their saliva, other mammals, such as gorillas and duikers, feed on the infected fruit, and in this way contract the virus. Then humans come along in their usual way, trying to teach the infected primates sign language and math and how to fix a cappuccino, then they mix up their drink with the monkey’s, and voila! Jane Goodall’s got Ebola.


Transmission Electron Micrograph of the Ebola Virus

Don’t worry though, you’re not going to contract Ebola at your local zoo. Most outbreaks have been restricted to Africa, save for the “Hot Zone’s” centric Reston case, which manifested in Virginia and again in Alice, Texas. But these were quickly contained. The quickest way for a US outbreak to occur would probably be Monet style, for the virus to hop on a host hopping on a plane back to the States, where everyone effected on the plane would go about their daily lives for a week before the headache sets in. However, it’s been discovered that the virus is transmitted through bodily fluids, so keep your in flight Bloody Mary to yourself.

But what if the virus is spread INTENTIONALLY? Well, that would suck. However, the mortality rate is so high (90% or so,) and it destroys its host so quickly that the chances of it spreading unnoticed are highly unlikely. So, it’s really not the greatest candidate for biological warfare.


So, what have we learned today dear readers?

1) Monkeys don’t make the greatest of pets. Buy a cappuccino machine.
2) MIND the Biohazard sign.
3) DO NOT, I repeat, DO NOT let the passenger zombie hand you his vom-bag. It’s just an all around bad idea, Ebola positive or not.
4) Never leaver you drink untended!
5) A pet bat is probably a worse idea than a pet monkey.
6) Read “The Hot Zone” if you’re trying to crash diet.
7) Cover your mouth when you cough, for Heaven’s sake!
8) Your head ache is PROBABLY not Ebola related. Try cutting back on the caffeine.
9) Google image Ebola at your own risk.
10) Cigarettes cause cancer.