August 19, 2023

What Does HIV and Ebola Have in Common?

When America’s top disease prevention official compared Ebola to HIV last week, he raised more than a few eyebrows. But doctors say he’s right—there are important similarities and differences between the two deadly viruses, which both originated in Africa and both have high fatality rates.

Both viruses are transmitted through body fluids, including blood, saliva, sweat, feces, and urine. But the main difference is that HIV has a long latency period—up to 10 years before symptoms appear—while Ebola has a much shorter one, typically 21 days or less. This means it is much easier to tell if someone has the virus, and to isolate them and prevent their spread.

Ebola is also more dangerous than HIV, with more severe symptoms such as fever, vomiting, and diarrhea. It’s also more difficult to contain, as the virus can be spread through air and contaminate food and water supplies.

HIV, which is an infection of the immune system, destroys CD4 T cells—white blood cells that play a key role in fighting off diseases. When you have low levels of these cells, your body can’t fight infections or ward off other illnesses such as cancer and tuberculosis. The EVD outbreak in West Africa has interrupted vital HIV clinical services, such as testing and treatment. And the disease has led to an uptick in cases of sexually transmitted infections, such as HIV and STIs, among people with unprotected sex.


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