Ebola Virus Disease

by Michael_Koger

Ebola virus disease is a deadly infection which generally transmits person-to-person and for which there is no cure.

Ebola virus disease became apparent to medical authorities when the first outbreak occurred in Africa near the Ebola River in 1976. Aside from laboratory accidents which generated a few human infections in Russia and England, all occurrences of this devastating disease have taken place in Africa. There have not been any case reports in the United States [1, 2].

The current 2014 outbreak is one of the largest ones in history, and it is the first occurrence in West Africa. These patients are in Guinea, Liberia, Nigeria, and Sierra Leone. It tends to occur in remote villages of Central and West Africa proximal to tropical rainforests [1, 2].

Humans not the Natural Host

The virus responsible for the illness is a member of the Filoviridae family.  It may infect humans and non-human primates such as chimpanzees, gorillas, and monkeys.  Nevertheless, it appears that non-human primates and humans are accidental hosts for this microbe.  In other words, they are not natural hosts for the virus [1, 2].

Scientists suspect that the fruit bat is the natural host for the virus which causes this disease.  The natural host will carry the virus, but it will not make that animal ill.  As humans are not the natural host, they will become ill whenever they acquire the infection [1, 2]. 

Transmission via Blood and Body Fluids

Individuals usually acquire the disease from other humans, but there has likely been an animal that had it beforehand.  This leads to animal-to-human transmission, and subsequently more cases of human infection take place as people spread it to each other.  Moreover, there must be direct contact with blood and body fluids or secretions such as stool, urine, saliva, vomit, or semen for transmission to take place [1, 2].

It is possible to transmit this infection when there are open skin wounds, and the person encounters the virus through soiled clothing, bed linen, or dirty needles and syringes which someone else has used.  One can also acquire it from funerals and burials of people who have the disease when family members come in contact with the deceased [1, 2].    

There is, however, very little risk that travelers will get the disease when they board airplanes or other modes of transportation.  Unless direct contact with blood or body fluids occurs, this disease will not infect a human [1, 2].


Ebola virus disease is a deadly illness which has occurred in repeated outbreaks over the decades, and awareness of its method of transmission and prevention are necessary steps to control it.


1.  Centers for Disease Control.  (2014).  Ebola hemorrhagic fever.  Retrieved August 24, 2014.

2.  World Health Organization.  (2014).  Ebola virus disease.  Retrieved August 24, 2014.

3.  The photo indicates the early symptoms of Ebola virus disease and is reprinted with permission from the Centers for Disease Control.


The information contained in this article is for educational purposes only and should not be used for diagnosis or to guide treatment without the opinion of a health professional. Any reader who is concerned about his or her health should contact their physician for advice.

Updated: 08/24/2014, Michael_Koger
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