The Ebola Virus or EVD was first seen in 1976 in which there were 2 outbreaks in Nzara, Sudan and in Yambuku, Democratic Republic of Congo. Due to the location of the outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo near the Ebola River, the disease received its name. This virus is very fast acting, and is very severe. If a person is left untreated, it is often fatal.

The first cases of the current outbreak in West Africa were in March 2014, and it is currently the most complex outbreak that has been seen since the virus was first diagnosed. There have been more people to get this virus and die from it during this outbreak, than there has been in all outbreaks combined. It is also an outbreak that has spread more rapidly from Guinea to Sierra Leone and Liberia, and then to Nigeria by an air traveler, and to Senegal. This article explains in detail ebola causes and how it is transmitted. 

What Causes Ebola Virus Disease Outbreaks?

The Ebola virus belongs to the viral family Filoviridae. Scientists also call it Filovirus. These virus types cause hemorrhagic fever or profuse bleeding inside and outside the body accompanied by a very high fever. Ebola can be further divided into subtypes that are named for the location they were identified in. These sub types include:

- Bundibugyo

- Reston (does not cause Ebola virus disease)

- Sudan

- Ta1 Forest (previously known as Ivory Coast)

- Zaire (responsible for the current 2014 Ebola outbreak)

Transmission from Animals to Humans

The Ebola virus likely originated in African fruit bats. The virus is known as a "zoonotic" virus because it can be transmitted to humans from animals. Humans can also transfer the virus to each other. Other animals known to transmit the virus include:

- Chimpanzees

- Forest Antelope

- Gorillas

- Monkeys

- Porcupines

Transmission Between Humans

Since people may handle these infected animals, the virus can be transmitted via the animal's blood and bodily fluids. Once people become infected with Ebola, they can transmit it to others, if a person were to come in contact with their:

- Breastmilk

- Feces

- Saliva

- Semen (which can have the virus in it for up to 3 months after recovery, according to the CDC)

- Sweat

- Vomit

- Urine

This is the only cause of Ebola transmission. These bodily fluids can all carry Ebola virus. People can get Ebola when they come in contact with these fluids via the eyes, nose, mouth, or broken skin. Healthcare workers are especially at risk for experiencing Ebola because they often deal with blood and bodily fluids.

Ebola can also be spread through sticks from infected objects, such as needles, and interactions with infected animals. To date, Ebola is only known to be transmitted from infected mammals and humans. Insects like mosquitoes are not linked with carrying Ebola.

Who Are at Higher Risks for Ebola?

If a person takes the proper precautions in dealing with Ebola, then they are not likely to simply catch the virus by going into areas in which the virus may be. Furthermore, the virus is not airborne, thus just being near someone does not necessarily mean that a person is at a higher risk of getting the Ebola Virus.

Those who are most at risk are those who are caring for Ebola virus patients. For example, healthcare workers. In fact, health care workers are considered those who are at a higher risk of getting the virus due to having to deal with more bodily fluids and blood than a person who may just visit a country. In the current outbreak, 184 healthcare workers in Liberia have become infected and nearly half of those who have been infected have died. The same type of risk is there for those who may be carrying for a family member who has the Ebola virus.

What Should Be Done to Reduce Risks of Ebola Infection?

There are several things that common people and healthcare workers can do in order to ensure that they are not putting themselves at a higher risk of contracting the Ebola virus, by avoiding Ebola causes and by protecting themselves from transmission:

For Common People

  • Hand washing is a must, as frequent hand washing can help to ensure that blood or bodily fluids are not getting into the mucus membranes. The hands must be washed with soap and water, or use an alcohol based cleanser with at least 60% alcohol.

  • Do not eat raw meat, and make sure that any meat that is eaten from animals that are known for carrying the virus is cooked throughout.

  • When handling meats or animals that are known for being carriers, always wear rubber gloves and other protective clothing such as eye goggles and face masks.

  • If taking care of someone who is ill in your home, be sure to minimize your exposure through wearing protective clothing and cleaning surfaces where the sick person may have come into contact with.

  • Safe burial processes should be followed in the event that a family member dies from Ebola.

  • If you believe that you or your family has come into contact with the virus, then you should monitor for symptoms for the next 21 days, try to stay at home to avoid spreading the virus to others and maintain your hygiene to ensure that this is not spread to those in the family who may not have contracted the virus.

  • Avoid going to hospitals in which Ebola patients are being treated, as this can increase the chances of coming into contact with the virus. This is especially true for West Africa hospitals, and the embassy can help with finding a medical center to go to that is safer.


For Healthcare Workers

  • Always follow the safety standards set in place that are meant to protect from getting the infection, as well as protect against spreading the infection which include wearing hand, eye and face protection.

  • Ensure to dispose of needles and other sharp instruments that have been used in Ebola virus patients to avoid having these contaminate other patients or staff.

  • Be sure that all patients with the Ebola virus are isolated from patients who do not in order to control the spreading of this virus

  • Do not come into direct contact with the bodies of those who have died from the Ebola virus, as the virus can still be alive

  • Those who work in labs need to be extremely careful with the specimens, as these are often blood and bodily fluids of the virus, thus these should be handled with extreme care.

  • Any health care worker who feels as though they may be at risk for the virus due to coming into contact with a patient should notify their superior in order to ensure they are monitored and are not spreading the virus unknowingly.


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