Is the Ebola Virus Contagious?

  • Medical Author:
    Charles Patrick Davis, MD, PhD

    Dr. Charles "Pat" Davis, MD, PhD, is a board certified Emergency Medicine doctor who currently practices as a consultant and staff member for hospitals. He has a PhD in Microbiology (UT at Austin), and the MD (Univ. Texas Medical Branch, Galveston). He is a Clinical Professor (retired) in the Division of Emergency Medicine, UT Health Science Center at San Antonio, and has been the Chief of Emergency Medicine at UT Medical Branch and at UTHSCSA with over 250 publications.

  • Medical Editor: Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD
    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD, is a U.S. board-certified Anatomic Pathologist with subspecialty training in the fields of Experimental and Molecular Pathology. Dr. Stöppler's educational background includes a BA with Highest Distinction from the University of Virginia and an MD from the University of North Carolina. She completed residency training in Anatomic Pathology at Georgetown University followed by subspecialty fellowship training in molecular diagnostics and experimental pathology.

Learn about Ebola's history.

Ebola History

Ebola hemorrhagic fever was first noted in Zaire (currently, the Democratic Republic of the Congo or DRC) in 1976. The original outbreak was in a village near the Ebola River after which the disease was named. During that time, the virus was identified in person-to-person contact transmission.

What is Ebola?

Ebola (also termed Ebola hemorrhagic fever) is a viral disease that, until the 2014 outbreak in West Africa, was considered a rare but deadly disease that causes a potentially fatal fever in humans as well as infection of nonhuman primates (for example monkeys, gorillas, and chimpanzees) and African fruit bats. Before 2014, small outbreaks were usually confined to small isolated villages in Africa. In 2014, an outbreak had villagers going to local cities for treatment and resulted in spreading the disease to a number of countries in Africa. A few individuals transferred the disease to other countries (for example, the U.S., Spain); caregivers got the disease from those individuals being treated for Ebola. The 2014 outbreak of Ebola was the largest in history; current estimates are that about 29,000 individuals were probably infected, with about 15,200 laboratory-confirmed infections that resulted in about 11,200 deaths, according to statistics from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The CDC states that there are no current infectious Ebola patients in Senegal, Nigeria, Spain, United States, the United Kingdom, and Italy.

There is some evidence that four of the five viral types that cause Ebola likely circulate in nonhuman primates; in addition, there is some evidence that Ebola virus types may be carried by African fruit bats. If these primates and/or bats are handled or eaten (Bush meat) by people, humans may contract the disease and then pass it on to other humans.

Is Ebola contagious?

Ebola is contagious. The virus spreads through direct contact (via broken skin or mucous membranes, in the nose, mouth, or eyes). Blood or body fluids from infected individuals are capable of causing infection in others. Examples of body fluids include urine, saliva, sweat, feces, vomit, breast milk, and semen. Unfortunately, objects such as needles and syringes that have been contaminated with blood or body fluids can also transmit the disease. Furthermore, contact with animals such as primates and/or African fruit bats may also transmit the Ebola virus from these animals to humans.

When a person dies from Ebola, the person's body has high concentrations of the virus both a few days before and after death. Also, the virus is in high concentration on contaminated sheets, clothing, or other items that have touched the recently deceased person. In these situations, Ebola is highly contagious.

Full protective gear is advised to protect health-care workers from becoming infected; for more details, the reader is referred to CDC's guidelines (see http://www.cdc.gov/vhf/ebola/healthcare-us/evaluating-patients/think-ebola.html).

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 10/2/2015

Subscribe to MedicineNet's Newsletters

Get the latest health and medical information delivered direct to your inbox!

By clicking Submit, I agree to the MedicineNet's Terms & Conditions & Privacy Policy and understand that I may opt out of MedicineNet's subscriptions at any time.

Health Solutions From Our Sponsors