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The Deadly Fist Of Ebola

The Deadly Fist Of Ebola

Finding ways to combat this deadly disease.

The Deadly Fist of Ebola

Wednesday, March 11, 2015 - 19:45

Karin Heineman, ISTV Executive Producer

(Inside Science TV) -- Back in 1976, the world saw the first Ebola outbreaks in two African countries. Hundreds of people died from the disease and after that, it became a world-wide issue.

Now, the world is coping with another Ebola outbreak. Within the last twelve months, over 20,000 cases have been reported, and it's not over yet.

We know the virus can spread from the body fluids of one person to another. But do you really know what happens once the virus is inside the body?

Now, scientists have discovered that Ebola forms a sort of "fist" that punches its way into cells.

"One of the notorious things about this virus that’s somewhat different from other viruses ... it can infect most cells in your body, so it's not like flu that only infects certain cells," said Judith White, a virologist at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville.

Scientists have been working for years to understand the Ebola virus -- here's how the deadly virus works: To enter a cell, the virus binds to a protein on the cell's surface. The virus then gets engulfed by the cell where it's first contained in a sort of bubble.

Ironically it would be harmless if it stayed that way, but Ebola quickly escapes by forming a fist that punches its way out of the bubble and into the body of the cell. Once this happens the virus multiplies, kills the cell and spreads throughout the body.

Understanding how the Ebola virus can spread so rapidly helps scientists develop future treatments and possible cures or vaccines.

"We are really focused mostly on the entry part, not the exit part and potentially to target this disease you could intervene at the entry pathway," said Lukas Tamm, a biophysicist at the University of Virginia.

In each outbreak, Ebola has killed up to 90 percent of the people it infects. The latest outbreak may be slowing down, but with no cure and no proven vaccine -- another outbreak is inevitable.

Research is getting closer every day in hope of eliminating the threat.

Get Inside The Science:

Lukas Tamm, University of Virginia

Judith White, University of Virginia

Ebola’s ‘Fist’: U.Va. Unlocks How Deadly Virus Smashes Into Human Cells

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Author Bio & Story Archive

Karin Heineman

Karin Heineman is the executive producer of Inside Science TV.