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The Ebola Wars: General Edition

Tracie M. Addy
Center for the Integration of Teaching, Learning and Scholarship
Lafayette College
Linda M. Iadarola
Department of Biological Sciences
Quinnipiac University
Derek Dube
Department of Biology
University of Saint Joseph


This case study introduces students to viruses and is suitable for a general biology course. Terry is a college student who travels to a West African clinic for the summer as a volunteer. While abroad, Terry comes into contact with a patient infected with the Ebola virus and later displays the signs and symptoms of an Ebola virus infection. Over the course of the case study Terry learns about the general features of viruses, viral life cycles, in addition to the unique features of the Ebola virus and treatment options. The case is presented in an interrupted fashion. Students are expected to have prior knowledge of protein, lipid and nucleic acid structure and function, the parts of the cells (e.g., the properties of the cell membrane and the role of ribosomes) and the central dogma (e.g., the processes of transcription and translation). An advanced version of the case, intended for upper level undergraduate and graduate students, is also available on this site.


  • Describe the different parts that make up the structure of a virus.
  • Explain the five steps needed for a virus to infect a host cell.
  • Describe how receptors on host cells are important for viral attachment to host cells.
  • Explain how a virus gains entry into the host cell.
  • Describe what parts of the host cell are used for virus replication and how a virus leaves when replication is complete.
  • Describe major structural features of the Ebola virus.
  • Label the major steps in the Ebola virus life cycle.
  • Describe the general options available for currently treating Ebola virus infections.


Viruses; Ebola virus; Ebola therapy; viral structure; infection; viral life cycle; disease; capsid; glycoproteins; immunotherapy; ZMapp

Educational Level

High school, Undergraduate lower division



Type Methods

Directed, Interrupted



Subject Headings

Biology (General) Medicine (General) Microbiology

Date Posted


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The following video(s) are recommended for use in association with this case study.

  • Viral Life Cycle hhmi/
    This short animation illustrates how delivery of a single virus to a cell allows the virus to infect the cell, replicate, and give rise to many progeny viruses. These viruses can then infect neighboring cells. Running time: 1:08 min. Produced by HHMI BioInteractive.
  • Click-and-Learn: Virus Explorer hhmi/
    Explore the similarities and differences of a variety of viruses including the Ebola virus by sorting them based on structure, genomic make-up, host range, transmission mechanism, and vaccine availability. Running time: Self-paced. Produced by HHMI BioInteractive.