The virus is particularly tough to combat because "once it gets into the human body, it attacks so many different tissues," explained Dr. Bruce Hirsch, an infectious diseases specialist at North Shore University Hospital in Manhasset, N.Y.
In contrast, most viruses tend to target one specific organ, Hirsch and Norman said. For example, influenza goes after the respiratory system.
But Ebola attacks every organ system, including the heart, lungs, brain, liver and kidneys, Norman said. The virus even attacks a person's blood, thinning it and causing Ebola's trademark bleeding from multiple orifices.
And the impact in terms of overall illness is "additive," Norman said. "Every time you add another organ system that's failing, a person's chance of survival goes down exponentially."
The human body responds to this multiple-pronged attack by initiating a massive and intense inflammatory response -- which actually adds to the damage being done, Hirsch noted.
"It's a combination of the viral destruction and the inflammation that takes place in response that's so life threatening to us," he said.
Ebola's ravages are such that even young, healthy patients, who usually can fight off most serious illnesses, have a high death rate, Hirsch said.
Pumping fluids into patients remains the best front-line treatment for Ebola, to limit the damage caused by inflammation, Hirsch explained.
Beyond that, doctors must pay close attention to the patient and be ready to treat whatever organs are on the verge of failure, Hirsch and Norman said.
It doesn't sound like much, but this basic care can dramatically enhance chances of survival.
"If you look at the overall statistics, the mortality rate is around 50 to 60 percent, but if you get out into remote areas the mortality
All rights reserved