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Ebola: The Truth About How Viruses Work

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Published on: October 2, 2014

Yesterday, it was reported that an individual in Dallas, Texas was diagnosed with the Ebola virus. The concern now is not when or if the Ebola virus will enter the United States; but, containing the virus now that it has. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) director, Dr. Tom Frieden, stated in a press conference that he was confident the Ebola virus will be contained so that it does not spread throughout the country. The question is, “Is that possible?”

Everyone has had experience with viruses. Anytime you get the cold or the flu, you have contracted a virus. Some types of viruses affect the stomach and intestines producing vomiting and/or diarrhea. In the case of many viruses, it must “run its course” as there is no definitive treatment, except for symptom management, of many viruses.

A virus is an infectious agent that can only replicate or reproduce inside the living cells of other organisms. Since viruses are acellular, meaning they do not grow through cell division, they require the metabolism and machinations of the host cell in order to replicate or make multiple copies of themselves. There are many classifications of viruses based on their reproduction. Some viruses remain dormant or latent for long periods before being triggered to produce symptoms, e.g., herpes virus that causes cold sores and the varicella virus that causes shingles. Other viruses produce symptoms more quickly. Many viruses, such as polio and chickenpox, now have vaccines to prevent contraction of the virus or lessen its severity, in the case of the influenza vaccine.

It is important with any virus that individuals consider the incubation period, the contagion period, the mode of transmission and virulence of the strain, along with any antibodies or immunity of the individual to the virus.

Since viruses require a host to reproduce, there is a period of time where the virus is proliferating inside the host cells without producing any symptoms. This is known as the incubation period. Once the body recognizes the invasion of a foreign organism, the immune system activates, producing a response whereby symptoms appear. This could be fever, headache, congestion, sneezing, coughing, sweating, vomiting, and/or diarrhea.

Once symptoms appear, one is generally said to be in the contagion period – the period of time when one could transmit the virus to another person or entity. However, the contagion period can overlap with the incubation period rendering someone with a virus contagious before symptoms appear. This happens in the common cold, influenza, some enteroviruses (stomach viruses), and other viruses as well.

In the contagion period, how the virus is then transmitted becomes important. Known as the mode of transmission, a person could infect another person via direct person to person contact, indirect contact with infected body fluids inadvertently deposited on surfaces and materials, airborne particulates transmitted via release into the air or by means of a vector, such as mosquito, rodent, or other animal or insect. Some viruses are transmitted only by one mode while others are transmitted by more than one mode.

Another consideration is how strong or virulent the virus strain. This affects the severity of the symptoms. Exposure to some viruses allows the body to build immunity or resistance, lessening the severity should an individual contract the virus. The strength or virulence can affect how long the virus can survive in the environment, outside a host, and how difficult it is to remove via disinfecting processes.

Amidst all of this, the weather must also be considered. Humidity and temperature can affect the spread of some viruses.

This is a very simple explanation regarding viruses but it is important to keep in mind considering America is facing the threat of an Ebola outbreak. It is important to listen to “experts” in the field; however, one must understand it is called the “practice of medicine” for a reason. Right now, no one has immunity from Ebola nor is anyone safe from not contracting it.

According to information obtained from the CDC and disseminated on FoxNews, Ebola “is transmitted from human to human by direct contact with the blood, saliva, mucous or other bodily fluids of an infected person – or from contact with contaminated surfaces and materials.” (emphasis mine) So, the CDC is indicating that indirect contact can occur. Did we not hear prior that Ebola could only be contracted through “direct contact?” Since the CDC’s own documentation indicates a possible transmission through contaminated surfaces, an individual who is coughing, sneezing, or sweating could contaminate surfaces and materials that could be handled by unsuspecting individuals. Would this not mean items on airplanes, in cars, on buses or trains?

Authorities have informed the public of the incubation period of Ebola – 2 to 21 days. This is the amount of time from contraction to the time symptoms appear. What about the contagion period? The CDC indicates an individual is not contagious until the symptoms appear. However, with the common cold and influenza, it is known the contagion period begins before the first symptoms and is most contagious in the first few days of exhibiting symptoms. Can we be confident that medical science knows all there is to know about Ebola?

The CDC documentation indicates that Ebola is a filovirus, so known for its long shape with branched filaments. In its own document, the CDC indicates, with regard to Ebola, “Although in the laboratory the viruses display some capability of infection through small particle aerosols, airborne spread among humans has not been clearly demonstrated.” The key word there is “clearly.” It has not been ruled out that Ebola is not airborne. What is being said by the CDC is a straight-forward airborne transmission has not been definitively established, as yet.

Viruses tend to mutate; some more rapidly than others. It happened with HIV and AIDS. When the virus first appeared, the scientific community disseminated information to the public that later turned out to be inaccurate, not intentionally, of course; but, it was based on the knowledge and understanding of the virus at that time. As the research and studies continued, the information changed.

Some scientists are indicating Ebola could mutate into an airborne transmissible form. One study did show the transmission of Ebola between laboratory animals kept apart in separate cages without any means of physical contact, indicating the possibility of airborne transmission in animals. It has long been accepted practice to study certain diseases in animals then apply those principles to humans.

What’s important to note is that individuals who may have Ebola present with symptoms that could be mistaken for other illnesses and viruses. This means that those, like the patient in Dallas, who present to a medical facility for treatment initially, may be diagnosed with other infections. Extensive precautions used in caring for someone with Ebola may or may not be used in the initial contact exposing individuals to the virus who then come in contact with others, thereby possibly increasing the risk of contamination of the populace.

The CDC maintains that once someone recovers from Ebola, they can no longer spread the virus; but, in its own literature states the virus has been found in semen for up to 3 months. The agency advises the use of condoms or abstinence for 3 months for patients who have recovered. The information seems rather contradictory. If the recovered patient can no longer spread the virus, why would condoms or abstinence be needed? Common sense would indicate the virus can spread for a time afterward because it lingers in semen. So, how is the CDC defining “recovered?”

The information we have on Ebola comes from the CDC and other scientific research entities; but, as we have seen, the information can change. What we must do is continually ask questions regarding the information we receive. Officials, right now, appear to be over-confident which can be dangerous because no one at this juncture can say they know “all there is to know” about Ebola.

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