Should You Be Worried About Ebola?

Most likely 'no' – here's how to stay informed


This summer has been a busy one for the Ebola virus. On July 17, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) a public health emergency of international concern.  

While the DRC has struggled with an Ebola outbreak for over a year now, a new case in a major city on the Rwandan border prompted the WHO to declare the emergency. International health officials saw that a spread of the virus to a major border city could cause the virus to spread beyond the country in Central Africa. In declaring the emergency, the WHO has reached out to the international community for assistance in preventing the virus' spread and controlling the outbreak.

What does this mean for concerned Americans?

A recent survey shows that 39 percent of Americans think Ebola is a severe threat to global health. Only 17 percent feel it's a critical threat within the U.S.

Let’s have a look at 9 things you need to know about the Ebola virus, the current outbreak in the DRC and what health risks Ebola may cause.


What is the Ebola virus and where does it come from?

The Ebola virus was discovered in 1976 in the DRC, and it's named after the Ebola River. It’s a rare hemorrhagic fever that has caused outbreaks in several African countries. While scientists do not know the exact origin of the virus, they have determined that bats likely carry it. Bats then transmit the virus to other animals native to the region that come into contact with humans.

How is the Ebola virus spread from person to person?

The virus is spread by coming into contact with bodily fluids of someone who currently has or who has died from the virus. Transmission can also occur by coming into contact with body fluids or objects tainted with body fluids from an infected bat or primate. It is also possible to contract the virus through sexual contact with someone who has the virus. Highest risk factors for contracting the virus are those contaminated body fluids coming in contact with someone's eyes, mouth, nose or broken skin.

Does someone know immediately if they’ve contracted the Ebola virus?

Unfortunately, no. The virus has an incubation period lasting between two and 21 days. It's common for symptoms to first appear between eight and ten days after exposure.

What are the symptoms of the Ebola virus?

Common symptoms are muscle pain, fatigue, fever, sore throat and headache. Additional symptoms can include diarrhea, vomiting, a rash and signs of diminished kidney and liver function. There can also be internal and external bleeding (like bleeding gums or bloody stools).

Is this current outbreak in the DRC new?

No. The DRC first reported an Ebola outbreak in August of 2018.

How severe is this outbreak compared to previously documented outbreaks?

The current outbreak in the DRC is the second-worst reported outbreak with over 1600 reported fatalities. The worst outbreak was in 2014-2016 and killed over 11,000 people and affected people in West Africa, Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia.

Why does the Ebola virus keep spreading?

Great question. To date, over 135,000 people in the DRC have received the Ebola vaccine and the WHO reports that the vaccine has had a 97.5 percent success rate in preventing those vaccinated from contracting the virus.

Unfortunately, there are other factors at play in the DRC, a country struggling with internal conflicts. There have been targeted attacks on health responders managing the virus outbreak. There is also significant distrust between locals and foreign health workers. This dynamic makes it challenging for healthcare professionals and aid workers to help people understand that the vaccine is not only safe but life-saving. Global health workers are now training locals to educate their communities. This step means those affected by the virus can receive information about diagnosis, care, and treatment from someone they know and trust.

Have there been cases of the Ebola virus reported in the U.S. recently?

Thankfully, no. The last reported cases of Ebola in the U.S. were during the 2014-2016 outbreak in Africa. Most of the reported cases were health workers who cared for a patient who traveled to Dallas from West Africa and other health workers who traveled to Africa.

Should I contact my doctor about the Ebola vaccine?

No. Current supplies of the Ebola vaccine are being routed to West Africa to control the current outbreak. The vaccine isn't for public use, but exceptions are being made for the extreme circumstances in Africa.


E. Napoletano is an award-winning journalist and author and the recipient of the 2019 Illinois Women’s Press Association first-place prize for her feature on the traumatic effects of family separation policies at the border.