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What Is Ebola?

Ebola is a dangerous virus that can cause people to get very sick and even die. The virus is causing the biggest problems in western Africa, where it has spread quickly. People all over the world are concerned about Ebola and are taking steps to stop it and to treat those who are sick.

Ebola symptoms can start with fever and headache, kind of like the flu. But it can get worse and cause life-threatening symptoms, such as bleeding and trouble breathing.

It’s very important that infected people get treatment right away. People who have Ebola need to be cared for in a special way so that the disease doesn’t spread to doctors, nurses, or others in their families and communities.

How Do People Catch Ebola?

Ebola does not spread like colds or the flu because it does not float through the air. Ebola also doesn’t spread through food or water, like some other viruses.

Instead, Ebola spreads when someone touches the body fluids (such as spit) of a sick person. That’s why it’s so important that hospital workers wear protective equipment that covers them from head to toe.

What Is an Outbreak?

An outbreak is when many people are getting sick with the same illness around the same time. You may have heard of a flu outbreak, which is when lots of people get sick from the same types of flu virus. When an outbreak happens because of a virus, more people could get sick because there is a lot of that virus around.

Where Did Ebola Come From?

Scientists aren’t sure how the first person gets Ebola at the start of an outbreak. But they think that people may pick up the virus by touching or eating infected animals. Tropical animals in Africa believed to carry the virus include great apes, chimpanzees, gorillas, monkeys, fruit bats, porcupines, and forest antelope.

Ebola gets its name from the Ebola River in the Democratic Republic of Congo (formerly Zaire). The disease was first reported in a village on the river in 1976. Since then, there have been a few outbreaks of the disease in western Africa, Uganda, and Sudan.

What Do Kids Need to Do About Ebola?

Ebola is making many people sick in Africa, but no matter where you live, it’s always a good idea to wash your hands well and often. Keeping your hands clean can help protect you from common illnesses like colds and the flu.

Kids who have questions about Ebola or any other illness should talk to a parent or another trusted adult.

Reviewed by: Rupal Christine Gupta, MD
Date reviewed: October 2014