London: There is horrific lethality about Ebola that puts in a sinister league of its own. Named after the remote African river region where it was first identified in 1976, at first it can appear to be nothing more than a mild fever, with muscle pain, a headache and a sore throat.
But then victims become weaker. They develop vomiting and diarrhoea. Days later as their bodies — now besieged by the virus — desperately attempt to fight back, their liver and kidneys start to fail. They become delirious.
And then Ebola begins to destroy them from the inside, causing devastating internal bleeding. In the most extreme cases victims vomit blood and bleed from the body’s soft mucous membranes: the eyelids, nose and gums, genitals and anus.
Intestines haemorrhage uncontrollably. At last, the victim falls into a coma, and dies within hours of multiple organ failure.
Ebola is a clever killer, too. With an incubation period of between two and 21 days, carriers can come into contact with many people without knowing they have it.
Once they start showing symptoms — even just a sore throat — they can transmit it to others through any of their bodily fluids: urine, tears, sweat or blood. A hug, a peck on the cheek, a handshake: all can be fatal.
There is still no vaccine and no known cure. Corpses are particularly high-risk, meaning the dead are as contagious as the living.