Ebola Without Symptoms

By Doreen Baingana

This is Steve Ember with the VOA Special English SCIENCE REPORT.

African and European scientists have discovered that people may have the deadly Ebola virus without showing any signs of the disease.

The Ebola virus is most common in central Africa. About seventy-percent of the people with signs of the disease have died in Gabon, Congo-Kinshasa and Sudan. The disease causes bleeding inside the body. This blood may flow out through the nose, mouth or other body openings. Other signs of the disease are fever, headache, diarrhea and vomiting. Ebola kills most infected people in five to seven days.

Doctors have known that Ebola is spread from an infected person to other people. Medical centers that are not properly cleaned also can cause the disease to spread. This can be prevented with infection control methods. These include removing dead bodies, destroying equipment used by infected people and using gloves to protect the hands when caring for infected people.

Now, scientists have discovered that the virus can be found in people who do not show signs of the disease. Studies show that infected people may have no signs for as long as two weeks after they have been infected.

A team of scientists from Gabon, Germany and France studied twenty-four people in Gabon. The people had lived with Ebola victims in Nineteen-Ninety-Six and had cared for them without using gloves or other protection. This group did not develop signs of Ebola. Nor did the Ebola virus show in studies of their blood. Later, scientists carried out a special blood test. It showed that the twenty-four people did, in fact, have the Ebola virus in their blood.

Scientists say this means it may be more difficult to control the spread of Ebola disease. Healthy people with the virus can pass it on without even knowing they are infected. Scientists do not know how often this has happened.

Doctors are especially concerned for people who receive blood during operations. Blood storage centers do not always test blood for the Ebola virus. Another public health concern is the spread of Ebola through sex. The virus has been found in male sex fluid.

However, scientists say this new discovery may help develop preventive medicine for Ebola. The new knowledge also may help in the continued search for a cure.

This VOA Special English SCIENCE REPORT was written by Doreen Baingana. This is Steve Ember.

Voice of America Special English