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Originally Answered: What is the origin of the Ebola virus?
Virus evolution dates back to the dawn of life. Ebola incorporates two evolutionary survival traits: lipid envelope and selenium sequestration.
Lipid enveloped viruses have an evolutionary advantage because their lipid (fatty) coating shields underlying structural proteins from immune surveillance by antibodies. It’s an invisibility cloak; the virus looks mostly like a tiny blob of fat. Some of the more troublesome viruses for human health are lipid enveloped: herpesviruses (all strains), cytomegalovirus (CMV), Epstein-Barr virus (EBV), hepatitis B and C, influenza viruses (all strains, including swine flus and bird flus), Newcastle disease virus, HIV, rubella (German measles), varicella virus (chicken pox), smallpox, swine fever, SARS, West Nile virus and all hemorrhagic viruses (including Ebola). The lipid envelope seriously challenges efforts to make vaccines.
Ebola virus and the other hemorrhagic viruses have an added evolutionary advantage: they sequester selenium. The Ebola genome has a repeating sequence of codons that specify selenocysteine incorporation into protein, despite that the virus does not use the resulting selenoprotein directly. It just sits there. The codon sequence is there to deplete the host of selenium reserves so that it cannot mount an effective defense. As it turns out, the oxygen family of elements (oxygen, sulfur and selenium) have antiviral effects against most if not all lipid-enveloped viruses.
The reason that all viruses do not use this hemorrhagic trick is that it has a survival disadvantage, too. It kills the host too rapidly to have the best chance of spreading on a perpetual basis. Viruses need live hosts to survive. This evolutionary imperative is seen in the chronic nature of most lipid-enveloped viral diseases.
I believe that selenium supplementation will eventually prove to be the key to treating Ebola infections, reducing it from an acute hemorrhagic fever to an “ordinary” lipid-viral infection. The combination of selenium supplementation and intravenous vitamin C is what I would want to receive if I were to become infected with Ebola.
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