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There are four types of the Ebola virus, three of which cause illness in humans. The exact origin, locations, and natural habitat of this virus remain unknown, but researchers believe it is normally maintained in an animal host that is native to the African continent. Person-to-person transmission occurs through direct contact with people who have Ebola, or direct contact with their body fluids.

What Is the Ebola Virus?

Ebola virus is a type of RNA virus that causes the disease known as Ebola hemorrhagic fever (also known as just Ebola).

Where Did Ebola Virus Get Its Name?

Ebola virus got its name from a river in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (formerly Zaire) in Africa, where it was first recognized.


Ebola virus is one of two members of a family of RNA viruses called Filoviridae. There are four identified subtypes of the virus. Three of the four have caused disease in humans:
  • Ebola-Zaire
  • Ebola-Sudan
  • Ebola-Ivory Coast.
The fourth subtype, Ebola-Reston, has caused disease in nonhuman primates, but not in humans.

Where Does the Virus Come From?

The exact origin, locations, and natural habitat (known as the natural reservoir) of Ebola virus remain unknown; however, on the basis of available evidence and the nature of similar viruses, researchers believe that the virus is zoonotic (animal-borne) and is normally maintained in an animal host that is native to the African continent. Ebola research scientists continue to search for the exact animal host.
A similar host is probably associated with Ebola-Reston, which was isolated from infected cynomolgus monkeys that were imported to the United States and Italy from the Philippines. The Ebola virus is not known to be native to other continents, such as North America.
Written by/reviewed by:
Last reviewed by: Arthur Schoenstadt, MD
Last updated/reviewed:
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