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Other viral pathology

These are some viral diseases which are important in Africa, but for which we do not have representative specimens in the UCT pathology teaching collection.


Rabies is a lethal encephalomyelitis (inflammation of the brain and spinal the cord) caused by a rhabdovirus that is transmissible between all mammals. The virus reaches the brain by ascending inside the axons of peripheral nerves from the site of inoculation (usually a bite).

rabies photomicrograph

Image credit: Public Health Image Library, CDC


"Polio" is an encephalomyelitis which can cause permanent paralysis in survivors due to destruction of anterior horn cells in the motor tracts. It is caused by Human poliovirus 1, 2 or 3, which are enteroviruses, infecting the body via the gut.

Polio diagram

Image credit: Wikimedia commons

Viral haemorrhagic fevers

Viral haemorrhagic fevers are caused by a number of different viruses of which Congo (a Bunyavirus) and Ebola (a Filovirus) are most well known in Africa. These viruses cause overwhelming cellular destruction in many organs and an accompanying coagulopathy, accounting for their high mortality.

Image credit: Public Health Image Library, CDC


Influenza is an epidemic respiratory infection caused by influenzaviruses that can lead to pneumonia and death in vulnerable groups, particularly the elderly. Another important respiratory virus is Respiratory Syncitial virus (RSV) which causes serious lower respiratory tract disease in infants.


Image credit: Public Health Image Library, CDC

Viral diarrhoeal disease

Rotavirus is the most important cause of childhood diarrhoea globally. The virus destroys intestinal epithelium, shortening the villi and reducing the absorptive surface of the gut, so leading to rapid dehydration.


Image credit: Public Health Image Library, CDC


AIDS is a syndrome of multiple diseases that occur secondary to immunodeficiency induced by the Human Immunodeficiency Virus. There is therefore no single pathological entity to represent AIDS, but typical AIDS related pathologies are reflected in this exhibition viz. Kaposi’s sarcoma, Progressive Multifocal Leukoencephalopathy, disseminated Cytomegalovirus infection, and Epstein-Barr virus induced lymphomas.


Image credit: Public Health Image Library, CDC