Ebola virus is named after the Ebola River in Yambuku in Zaire (Democratic Republic of Congo) where it was first detected in 1976.

Ebola like other virus is a small infectious organism which is much smaller than a fungus or bacterium that must invade a living cell to replicate itself. The virus attaches to the host cell, enters it, and releases its DNA or RNA inside the cell. The virus’s DNA or RNA is the genetic material containing the information needed to replicate the virus. The virus’s genetic material takes control of the cell and forces it to replicate the virus. The infected cell usually dies because the virus keeps it from performing its normal functions. When it dies, the cell releases new viruses, which go on to infect other cells.

Like other viral infections, people may get Ebola viruses by close body contacts, inoculation of infected blood or body fluids, swallowing or inhaling them, being bitten by insects or parasites or through sexual contact or eating viral infected bush meat. Most commonly, viral infections involve the nose, throat, vaginal, urethral and upper airways due to the nature of the porous and wet membranes in these areas of the body.

Treatments of viral diseases are very difficult unlike bacterial infection so prevention is the best cure for viral infections. Available antiviral agents are few and work by interfering with the reproduction of viruses or strengthening the immune response to the viral infection which is not consistent in all individuals who may be infected by viral agents.

Normally, the body has a number of defences against viruses. Physical barriers, such as the skin, discourage easy entry. Infected cells also make interferons; substances that can make uninfected cells more resistant to infection by many viruses. Virus enters the body and triggers the body’s immune defences. These defences begin with white blood cells, such as lymphocytes and monocytes, which learn to attack and destroy the virus or the cells it has infected. If the body survives the virus attack, some of the white blood cells remember the invader and are able to respond more quickly and effectively to a subsequent infection by the same virus as in the virus of the common cold and influenza. This response is called immunity. Immunity can also be produced by getting a vaccine produced against a particular virus.

Virus infections are associated with cancers like Epstein Barr virus with Burkett’s lymphoma, Human papilloma virus with cervical cancers in women, HIV with Kaposi Sarcoma, Hepatitis B and C viruses with Liver cancers, warts (HPV) viruses in vulva cancers.

Viral infections may be diagnosed based on symptoms. For infections that occur in epidemics like the influenza or Ebola, the presence of other similar cases may help doctors identify a particular infection hence post mortem diagnosis is still very relevant in disease prevention. For other viral infections, blood tests and cultures from samples of blood, body fluid, or other material taken from an infected area may be done. Blood may also be tested for antibodies to viruses or for antigens.  Polymerase chain reaction (PCR) techniques may be used to make many copies of the viral genetic material, enabling doctors to rapidly and accurately identify the virus. When the infection is a serious threat to public health as Ebola virus or when symptoms are severe, a sample of blood or other tissues is sometimes examined with an electron microscope, which provides high magnification with clear resolution.


Anti-viral agents are few unlike antibiotics. Many antiviral drugs work by interfering with replication of viruses without actually killing the viral agent as in the treatment of HIV. Because viruses are tiny and replicate inside cells using the cells’ own metabolic functions, there are only a limited number of metabolic functions that antiviral drugs can target which is in contrast to bacteria that are relatively large organisms, commonly reproduce by themselves outside of cells, and have many metabolic functions that antibacterial drugs (antibiotics) can target.

The above are the reasons that antiviral drugs are much more difficult to develop than antibacterial drugs. Antiviral drugs can be toxic to human cells and viruses can easily develop resistance to these antiviral agents.

This is why we are appealing  to all kind hearted individuals from anywhere in the world to help fund research into anti-viral drugs which can take years and years to develop from conception to testing and subsequent approval by the various drug administration control authorities in various countries.

Most of these viruses are linked to Africa especially sub-Saharan Africa. It is therefore imperative for African leaders to be in the fore-front of finding solutions to these viral infections instead of always depending on others to fund research for their own problems while they are siphoning national economic resources for luxury goods to foreign land. They should encourage and fund home grown research into finding solutions to African problems. Africans should stop the blame game and utilise their human resources appropriately. In Nigeria for example where the Senators earn as much as twice the salaries American Senators for minimal results; money which is squandered for marrying more wives and building houses which they may never live in could be used to fund such research, pay doctors decent salaries so that they continue to be in the fore front of fighting diseases including incurable viral infections.

Generally viral diseases can only be controlled or suppressed by innate immunity but cannot be cured like bacteria diseases so government agencies should fund the campaign about healthy living and prevention of communicable diseases than corruptly enriching themselves to the detriment of their citizens.

Dr Stephen E O Ogbonmwan FMCOG(Nig), FRCOG(UK)

July 2014