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Ebola Virus explained

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Key Protein May Give Ebola Virus Its Opening

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Of the pathogens that keep worried scientists awake at night, few rival Ebola for ruthless efficiency.

The virus contains just seven genes, yet it manages to kill up to 90 percent of the people it infects. Patients typically develop fever and fatigue, then progress to seizures, delirium, and bleeding from the eyes, nose and mouth. After the onset of symptoms, death generally occurs in eight to 16 days.

Ebola outbreaks occur periodically in Africa, where the pathogen was first discovered in 1976. Less hazardous strains have turned up in pigs in the Philippines and in laboratory animals imported into Italy and the United States. Experts fear that the virus even could serve as an agent of bioterrorism.

There is no cure or treatment for Ebola infection beyond supportive care. Nor do scientists fully understand how the virus infects its hosts.

But in work published in the journal Nature, researchers from several institutions have identified a protein in host cells that appears to be essential for infection. Cells that lacked the protein remained unharmed after exposure to the virus in the laboratory.

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