diseases What It's Like to Die from Ebola  

Christopher Myers
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Death from Ebola is a terrifying possibility. If left untreated, the disease has a fatality rate around 90%. Even if you are treated in time, you only have up to a 50% chance of surviving the Ebola virus. But the high mortality rate isn't the worst part. It's the gruesome details of how you die that makes the deadly virus so horrifying.

There are five strains of Ebola, four of which can make you sick. It was first discovered fairly recently, in 1976. Since then, there have been 33 recorded outbreaks. The most deadly one came in 2014 in West Africa. The disease started in Guinea during that tragic outbreak, and spread to Sierra Leone, Liberia, and Nigeria. During the outbreak, 28,646 people were infected and 11,323 died.

Unless you're traveling to an area where the virus is present, chances are slim that you'll catch the Ebola virus yourself. But if you want to learn more about this dreadful disease, keep reading.

You'll Probably Be Infected By Feces

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Photo: Public Domain/via Wikimedia Commons

Ebola is fairly difficult to get. It is only communicable via fluids, unlike airborne diseases like influenza, so the transmission rate is pretty low. It is possible to get Ebola from an infected bat, monkey, or chimp, but chances are you'll get it from bodily waste.

Transmission generally occurs by direct contact with an infected person, their fluids, or something contaminated by them. That means blood, vomit, or feces, with the last being the most common culprit. That's why outbreaks of Ebola typically occur in places with inadequate sanitation standards, such as a lack of indoor plumbing. Unless you are actively handling Ebola patients or their bodies, an infected outhouse is the most likely source of your infection.

The incubation period for the disease can last up to 21 days, so you have that long after being infected before you start to notice anything wrong.

It Starts With A Fever

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Photo: CDC Global Health/flickr/CC-BY 2.0

When you wake up with a fever hovering around 100 degrees Fahrenheit, your first impulse is to think you have the flu. As that fever climbs to 102, and then 104, you begin to question the flu diagnosis. If you are in one of the places where Ebola outbreaks typically occur, you'll start to wonder if you have malaria. Once malaria tests come back negative, it's time to consider other, more frightening, possibilities.

Then Comes The Uncontrollable Diarrhea

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Photo: EU Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid/flickr/CC-BY-NC-ND 2.0

"Uncontrollable" is not a word to be taken lightly. At this point, your bowel control is nonexistent, and you have to rely on others to clean you up. Sadly, this is one of the primary ways that Ebola spreads: through contact with infected bodily fluids.

And The Dehydrating Vomiting

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Between constant vomiting and diarrhea, you are rapidly becoming dehydrated. Your potassium levels are also dropping. If you're being treated by doctors, they will hook you up to an I.V. to get some fluids into you.

You Won't Know It's Ebola For Days

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Photo: DFID - UK Department for International Development/flickr/CC-BY 2.0

Ebola is not testable for several days after the symptoms first begin to appear. The most accurate test is called the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test, which looks for genetic material from the virus. It can be three to five days before enough genetic material is present in the body to be detected. At this point, though, a positive test result indicates that yes, you have Ebola.

You Are Quarantined

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If you are in a place where there is modern medical infrastructure, a diagnosis of Ebola will land you straight in quarantine. The medical staff that cares for you will be covered from head to toe in protective gear. Efforts will be made to sterilize everything you come into contact with. Since most people who contract Ebola get it by caring for someone who has it, the staff around you are going to be taking every precaution to avoid infection.

Your Cells Are Bursting

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Photo: CDC Global Health/flickr/CC-BY 2.0

On the microscopic level, the Ebola virus is wreaking havoc on your body. Most notably, it's infecting your cells. The virus enters cells, where it then replicates itself. Once that process is complete, it explodes out of the cells to continue its path through the body.

It Hijacks Your Immune System

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Photo: NIAID/via Wikimedia Commons/CC BY 2.0

Normally, your immune system would get to work fighting a virus, but not when you have Ebola. Instead, your white blood cells get infected. The virus then sends the infected white blood cells to other parts of the body, such as the spleen, liver, and brain. This eventually triggers those organs into shutting down completely.