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Should we fear the Ebola virus or not?

“Breaking news: Ebola virus has been declared as an international public health emergency by the World Health organization”

That sentence was the first thing I saw when I logged into Facebook as I’ve started planning and writing this article.

What is the Ebola virus (EBOV)?

The Ebola virus is a very terrible disease and lethal if caught and it has a high fatality rate of 60% (WHO 01/04/2014) [1] Ebola is not an airborne virus but it can be spread via bodily fluids such as sweat and its recommended that you don’t shake hands with anyone who could potential carry the disease or has recovered and still in recuperation period.

EBOV is a negative sense RNA virus that can cause severe and often fatal haemorrhagic fever in humans. Once being subjected to the virus and within a matter of days the Ebola virus causes havoc to the body systems, it sets the immune system into overdrive; disrupting its method of work, lowers blood pressure below normal; eventually leading to heart failure. The problem is that there is no specific treatment or vaccine for the Ebola virus.

[[  Definition: Negative sense RNA means that the RNA strand 3’ to 5’ position and has a nucleotide sequence complementary to the mRNA that it encodes. Like DNA, this RNA cannot be translated into protein directly. Instead it must first be transcribed into a positive – sense (5’ – 3’ strand). ]]

It has been found that the species of fruit bat is the virus’ natural host and acts as a “reservoir” for the deadly virus [2], and it doesn’t help that this species is widely hunted in Liberia (where Ebola started) and could have been the main reason for the spread of the virus.

There is currently no cure or vaccine currently for Ebola. But keeping patients rehydrated can help recovery. However there is a little bit of hope in the new (but untested) drug called ZMapp. ZMapp is a drug created by Mapp biopharmaceutical Inc and has helped in treating two victims of EBOV.

ZMapp is a type of drug from the monoclonal antibody family. Monoclonal antibodies are known for their typical “y-shape” formed from two light chains (Fab fragments) attached to a heavy chain (Fc fragment) via disulfide bonds. Each monoclonal antibody has a specific binding affinity to a specific protein [3] [4]. ZMapp is made of two components one called MB-003 (Mapp) and the other called ZMAb (Defyrus/PHAC) and works by preventing the virus from entering and infecting new cells. 

Although ZMapp is still under trial and has not been tested in humans and has only been made in small quantities so there is still issues as to who it can be given to. But ZMapp has been trailed on Non- human primates (NHP’s) and it has been found that it has treated them and allowed recovery from Ebola [5]  Once the WHO have finished human trials on the drug and their discussions, it could be mass produced to treat and counteract EBOV.

Here is a simple and descriptive video about how virus’ work in the body:


[1] Du Toit, Andrea. "Ebola virus in West Africa." Nature Reviews Microbiology 12.5 (2014): 312-312.
[2] Leroy, Eric M., et al. "Fruit bats as reservoirs of Ebola virus." Nature 438.7068 (2005): 575-576.
[3] Ayithan, Natarajan, et al. "Ebola Virus-Like Particles Stimulate Type I Interferons and Proinflammatory Cytokine Expression Through the Toll-Like Receptor and Interferon Signaling Pathways." Journal of Interferon & Cytokine Research 34.2 (2014): 79-89.
[3] G.L Patrick (2009) An Introduction To Medicinal Chemistry, 4th edn., Oxford: OUP.
[4] Cancer research UK (2012) About monoclonal antibodies, Available at: (Accessed: 4th March 2013).
[5] Qiu, Xiangguo, et al. "Successful treatment of Ebola virus–infected cynomolgus macaques with monoclonal antibodies." Science translational medicine 4.138 (2012): 138ra81-138ra81.