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Ebola, which is often fatal, is caused by infection with a virus. The virus was first recognized in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (formerly Zaire) in 1976. No case of this illness in humans has ever been reported in the United States. There is no cure; treatment usually consists of providing supportive care while the body fights the infection.

What Is Ebola?

Ebola hemorrhagic fever (also just called Ebola) is a highly contagious illness that is often fatal in humans and nonhuman primates (monkeys, gorillas, and chimpanzees). It has appeared sporadically since it was first recognized in 1976.

What Causes It?

The cause of Ebola is an infection with a virus (see Ebola Pictures). The virus got its name from a river in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (formerly Zaire) in Africa, where it was first recognized.
The virus is one of two members of a family of RNA viruses called Filoviridae. There are four identified subtypes. Three of the four have caused disease in humans:
  • Ebola-Zaire
  • Ebola-Sudan
  • Ebola-Ivory Coast.
The fourth virus subtype, Ebola-Reston, has caused disease in nonhuman primates, but not in humans.
(Click Causes of Ebola for more information.)

Have There Been Any Outbreaks?

Ebola outbreaks typically appear sporadically. Confirmed cases of Ebola virus infections have been reported in:
  • The Democratic Republic of the Congo
  • The Ivory Coast
  • Gabon
  • Sudan
  • Uganda.


Ebola Virus in the United States

No case of Ebola in humans has ever been reported in the United States. Ebola-Reston virus caused severe illness and death in monkeys imported to research facilities in the United States and Italy from the Philippines; during these outbreaks, several research workers became infected with the virus, but did not become ill.
Written by/reviewed by:
Last reviewed by: Arthur Schoenstadt, MD
Last updated/reviewed:
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