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Treatment and prevention of Ebola virus disease

Mike Bray, MD, MPH
Daniel S Chertow, MD, MPH
Section Editor
Martin S Hirsch, MD
Deputy Editor
Jennifer Mitty, MD, MPH


The family Filoviridae consists of three genera: Ebolavirus and Marburgvirus (which are among the most virulent pathogens of humans) [1-3], and Cuevavirus, which has only been detected in bats in Spain [4]. The genus Ebolavirus consists of five species: Zaire, Sudan, Bundibugyo, Tai Forest, and Reston.

The Zaire species was discovered in 1976 and has been responsible for some dozen outbreaks in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and neighboring countries, with case fatality rates often approaching 90 percent. In 2014, the Zaire virus appeared in West Africa [5], producing an epidemic in Liberia, Guinea, and Sierra Leone that took more than two years to bring under control. There were nearly 29,000 total cases (suspected, probable, or confirmed), of which more than 15,000 were laboratory confirmed, and the overall case fatality rate was approximately 40 percent [6].

The Sudan species was also first recognized in 1976, and in four outbreaks in Uganda and Sudan, case fatality rates have averaged 50 percent. The Bundibugyo species has been responsible for small outbreaks in Uganda and the adjacent DRC, while the Ivory Coast virus has caused one nonfatal case. The Reston virus does not cause disease in humans.

Outbreaks of Ebola virus disease appear to begin when a human comes into contact with an infected animal or its body fluids. Subsequent person-to-person transmission is based upon direct physical contact with the body fluids of a living or deceased patient.

Patients with Ebola virus disease typically present with a nonspecific febrile syndrome that may include headache, muscle aches, and fatigue. Vomiting and diarrhea frequently develop during the first few days of illness and may lead to significant volume losses. A maculopapular rash is sometimes observed. Despite the traditional name of "Ebola hemorrhagic fever," major bleeding is not found in the majority of patients, and severe hemorrhage tends to be observed only in the late stages of disease. Some patients develop progressive hypotension and shock with multiorgan failure, which typically results in death during the second week of illness. By comparison, patients who survive infection commonly begin to show signs of clinical improvement during the second week of illness.

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Literature review current through: Dec 2017. | This topic last updated: Dec 04, 2017.
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