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Updated October 25, 2014


The Ebola virus causes an acute, serious illness which is often fatal if untreated. Ebola first appeared in 1976 in two simultaneous outbreaks, in Sudan and Democratic Republic of Congo. The latter occurred in a village near the Ebola River, from which the disease takes its name.

The current outbreak in West Africa, (first cases notified in March 2014), is the largest and most complex Ebola outbreak since the Ebola virus was first discovered. There have been more cases and deaths in this outbreak than all others combined.

The most severely affected countries, Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia, have weak health systems and have only recently emerged from long periods of conflict and instability. Neighboring Mali recently recorded its first case, a
2-year-old girl who had traveled to Guinea.

Basic Information About Ebola[i] [ii]

  • Transmission:
    • People can only spread the infection if they are symptomatic and actually sick
    • Ebola is not spread through the air; experts have dismissed suggestions that the disease could mutate into an airborne virus, becoming more contagious
    • To be infected, one must have direct contact with bodily fluids of someone who is actively ill with the disease (blood, urine, diarrhea, possibly semen) and then touch his or her own mucus membranes (eyes, mouth, cut on the skin, etc.)
    • The disease’s ability to spread in West Africa has been largely due to the stricken countries’ weak healthcare systems, e.g.: dearth of doctors, treatment and prevention supplies, and medical resources
  • Viral Effect
    • Incubation period can be between 2-21 days
    • First symptoms are the sudden onset of fever fatigue, muscle pain, headache and sore throat. This is followed by vomiting, diarrhea, rash, symptoms of impaired kidney and liver function, and in some cases, both internal and external bleeding (e.g. oozing from the gums, blood in the stools)
    • Most fatalities are caused by severe dehydration or low blood pressure related to fluid loss
    • Over time, people have difficulty supporting blood pressure as the virus replicates in multiple organ systems throughout the body
    • Infected people have difficulty holding on to body fluids (can lose between 5-10L per day)
  • Treatment:
    • Treatment is mostly supportive; there is no proven cure for Ebola
    • Infected people are put into intensive care units, which include IV units, oxygen, medications to support blood pressure, nutrition
    • Goal is to support bodily systems as much as possible until immune system can respond
    • There are only a small number of experimental treatments available and it is unclear if they actually work and are safe
  • Ebola In The United States:[iii]
    • As of October 23, five Ebola cases have been laboratory-confirmed in the US – only three of which resulted from localized transmission
    • The first case of Ebola in the US was a Liberian man who traveled to Dallas from West Africa; he passed away October 8 and was cremated
    • Two nurses contracted Ebola while caring for the first patient and were transferred to specialized units in Atlanta and Maryland to be treated – one has recovered and the other is still in treatment
    • An American freelance camera man working for NBC was diagnosed after returning from Liberia and was declared free of Ebola on October 21
    • An American doctor who recently returned to New York from Guinea was diagnosed October 23
    • US healthcare professionals have been “contact tracing,” or finding everyone who comes in direct contact with a sick Ebola patient to identify and isolate possible cases to stop further spreading[iv]
    • Five US airports have initiated new screening protocols from travelers coming in from West Africa – JFK, Washington Dulles, O’Hare, Hartsfield-Jackson and Newark
    • In October 2014, President Obama appointed an Ebola response coordinator

Doctors Without Borders reports that the risk of Ebola spreading to the US in a significant way is minimal, but to minimize it further, resources are needed to bring the outbreak under control in West Africa[v]  

Philanthropic Response

  • Doctors Without Borders has received approximately $56.7 million to use in fighting Ebola; in comparison, the group received $138 million in restricted donations after the Haiti earthquake[vii]
  • In September 2014, the US pledged $350 million and deployed military personnel to the affected area, the UK has committed $200 million and the World Bank has said it would finance $400 million
  • The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has pledged $50 million to UN agencies and international response organizations[viii]
  • Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan have pledged $25 million to the foundation that supports the CDC
  • Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen has pledged to donate $100 million to organizations fighting Ebola[ix]

How You Can Help

Key Data

Countries with Widespread Transmission (as of October 25, 2014)