Ebola Zaire and other filoviruses

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The term "filovirus" refers to a family of viruses discovered in the 20th century. To date, five types of filovirus have been discovered, and they are known by the following names; Marburg, Ebola Sudan, Ebola Zaire, Ebola Reston, and Ebola Ivory Coast. All filoviruses are thought to be closely related. In general, they consist of a single RNA string of several mysterious proteins. Several million filoviruses can fit into a space about the size of the period ending this sentence. It takes as few as five or six virus particles in the bloodstream to begin a process of viral amplification, which usually culminates in an infection. All known strains of filovirus are classified as Level 4 Biohazards, which means they have to be handled by people in spacesuits in sealed negative-pressure chambers seperated from the rest of the world by an airlock. It also means that outbreaks of filoviral infection in a human population is recognized as having the potential to escalate into a possible extinction level event for the human species.


The Marburg virus is named, as most viruses are, for the location of the first recorded outbreak, a town called Marburg in Germany. The outbreak happened in 1967, amongst the workers at a medical facility that handled imported Ugandan monkeys for the pharmaceutical industry. The virus has a fatality rate in humans of about 25%.

Under a microscope, the virus lookes like a piece of cooked spaghetti rolled into a loop (all the filoviruses have the appearance of a thin thread).

The infection progresses in a human host as follows: early on the subject will have an intense headache and/or backache that does not subside, even with the use of painkillers. The eyes turn gradually red, deepening into a ruby-black hue, and they tend to bulge from the sockets slightly. A rash appears in other parts of the body, spreads, and deepens, while the skin takes on a yellowish, jaundiced hue. Hemmoraghes in the lining of one's nose, stomach, and/or intestines cause the person to begin bleeding profusely from one or more orifices, which brings on rapid dehydration. Brain damage sets in as the virus amplifies itself throughout a person's nervous system, and the victim will often become glazed and distant as the 'deep brain' or the 'lizard brain' takes over his functioning... hallucinations and dementia are not uncommon. The lining of the lungs and/or digestive tract sometimes sloughs off and is vomited up, coughed out, or excreted. If the virus moves into the heart muscle, arrythmia can follow. The victim's testicles or labia turn purple and swell up enormously. Finally, the person "crashes" and "bleeds out" (a viral pathologist's terms), going into convulsive seizures and expelling great quantities of level 4 Biohazard material (blood packed with viral particles and laden with stringy black esophogeal tissue) from all orifices; the virus's major means of spreading itself.

Survivors of the Marburg virus often suffer permanent brain damage. Their hair falls out as if they had been receiving chemotherapy. The genital swelling subsides somewhat but not entirely, and usually the skin begins peeling off the infected areas in great slabs.

There have been several outbreaks of Marburg virus since the one in Germany. Noone knows where the virus comes from originally. Two documented cases of Marburg crossed paths at the site of a volcanic cave in the vicinity of Lake Victoria in eastern Africa, the same area where the Marburg-infected monkeys were imported from. A CDC expedition from America was designated to investigate the cave, but it yielded no significant results.

Ebola Sudan

The filovirus family of which Marburg is a member also comprises a strain of virus called Ebola. The Ebola virus is named for the Ebola river in Africa. There are four different types of Ebola virus identified to date.

The first known outbreak of Ebola Sudan occurred in 1976, in the Maridi area of Uganda. 284 humans are known to have been infected with the disease. The disease has a survival rate of about 50%, approximately the same as the black plague that devastated Europe in the Middle Ages. The outbreak was accompanied by a second outbreak in London, England, where a laboratory worker analyzing the sample accidentally stuck himself with a contaminated needle. Although he became ill, he managed to survive the infection.

Further outbreaks occurred in 1979, very close to the site of the first epidemic; and as recently as late in the year 2000, when 425 people in Uganda became ill.

It is worth noting that in all outbreaks of Ebola, one of the major risk factors in contracting an infection tends to involve provision of medical care or funerary care to an Ebola host. Ebola Sudan seems to be much more easily contracted than does Marburg; in the 1976 outbreak, the virus seemed to spread through casual and sexual contact, whereas Marburg tends to rely on blood-to-blood contact as a means of spreading itself. Not a great deal is known about the virus; for example, the reason why the 1976 outbreak subsided are largely a mystery.

Ebola Zaire

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