Does ebola look like?

Dr. Saphire: Viruses are fascinating because they can be so simple. While you and I have 20,000 genes, Ebola virus has just seven genes. Despite that, it can cause hundreds of thousands of cases every year. The question is: how can something so simple be so deadly? If the virus is that simple, we can take it apart and examine the vulnerabilities. That’s exactly what we’ve been able to do.

Health-care workers have frequently been infected while treating patients with suspected or confirmed Ebola. This occurs through close contact with patients when infection control precautions are not strictly practiced.

You will have tests to check for the cause of your symptoms. The symptoms of Ebola can also be caused by other viruses and bacteria. To rule out other diseases and conditions, you may have tests such as:

Ebola Virus

Does ebola look like


The symptoms of Ebola infection can be sudden and include fever, fatigue, muscle pain, headache and sore throat. These are followed by vomiting, diarrhoea, rash, and internal and external bleeding.

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Where is Ebola?

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Emory University
Journal of Infectious Diseases
Nebraska Medical Center

Dr. Saphire: From 2014 to 2016 we had the largest ever outbreak of Ebola virus, and it spread from a single infected two-year-old, whom we think played in a hollowed-out tree, to 30,000 people across international borders. We currently have another outbreak that’s added another 3,400 people. Although we have a mobilized vaccine now that’s been given to hundreds of thousands of people, the virus hasn’t stopped and there are a couple of new cases every day. The bottom line is that anywhere there’s regional instability and tens of thousands of refugees or competing factions and distrust of authorities, it’s extremely difficult to stop the virus—any virus.

Dr. Erica Ollmann Saphire is a leading structural immunologist and a professor at La Jolla Institute for Immunology, where she has set up a state-of-the-art cryo-electron microscopy (cryo-EM) research lab. The recipient of numerous awards, Dr. Saphire and her team have uncovered the molecular structures of the Ebola, Sudan, Bundibugyo, Marburg, LCMV and Lassa virus surface glycoproteins, how these viruses suppress immune function, and where human antibodies dock to defeat these viruses. Dr. Saphire also directs the Viral Haemorrhagic Fever Immunotherapeutic Consortium, composed of 43 academic, industrial and government labs across five continents. We recently met with Dr. Saphire to learn more about how cryo-EM is advancing her research.

Slideshow: Ebola Virus Pictures: A Visual Guide

AM: What have you learned about the molecular structure of Ebola using cryo-EM, and how has this led to a promising drug?

If you travel to affected countries or think you have been exposed to someone suspected or confirmed to have Ebola, follow the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s guidance for protecting yourself. In addition:

The Ebola virus is not believed to be spread through the air, unless the patient is undergoing medical procedures that can release respiratory droplets into the air, such as having a breathing tube inserted or removed or undergoing bronchoscopy.

Ebola virus disease

Ebola virus: What is it and how does it spread?

WHO has developed detailed advice on Ebola infection prevention and control:

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Controlling an Outbreak

Ebola then spreads through human-to-human transmission via direct contact (through broken skin or mucous membranes) with:

People remain infectious as long as their blood contains the virus. After recovery, there is the possibility of sexual transmission, which can be reduced with support and information for survivors.

It’s rare, but the Ebola virus can stay in semen for 3 months after a man recovers, so they should avoid sex or use a condom to keep from infecting others. The virus can stay in breast milk for 2 weeks after recovery, so women shouldn’t breastfeed during that time.

How Cryo-EM Helped Researchers Uncover the Molecular Structures of Ebola Virus

Taking a closer look at Ebola

If you have been exposed to Ebola:

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Who is at risk for Ebola?

Blood, urine and other tests may be done regularly. This is to check for chemicals that show how well the organs are working. The tests also look for signs of the virus that continue or go away. Your blood pressure will be checked regularly.

Laboratory workers are also at risk. Samples taken from humans and animals for investigation of Ebola infection should be handled by trained staff and processed in suitably equipped laboratories.

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