Ebola Home > The Ebola Virus

As you might guess, the Ebola virus is the cause of Ebola, a contagious disease. Transmission of the virus occurs through direct contact with people who have Ebola, or through contact with their body fluids. In the United States, there have been no reported cases of infection in humans.

Understanding the Ebola Virus

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

How Did the Virus Get Its Name?

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


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

Where Does the Virus Live?

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. However, the exact locations, origin, and natural habitat (known as the natural reservoir) of the Ebola virus remain unknown. Scientists continue to search for the exact animal host.
Ebola-Reston was isolated from infected cynomolgus monkeys that were imported from the Philippines to the United States and Italy, and is probably associated with a similar host. The virus is not known to be native to other continents, such as North America.

Outbreaks of the Ebola Virus

Ebola outbreaks typically appear sporadically. Confirmed cases of infections have been reported in:
  • The Ivory Coast
  • Sudan
  • Gabon
  • Uganda
  • The Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Written by/reviewed by:
Last reviewed by: Arthur Schoenstadt, MD
Last updated/reviewed:
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