3. The Virus

One of the most common misconceptions of Ebola is how it is transmitted.

Ebola can only be transferred through bodily fluids like saliva, sweat, diarrhea, vomit and blood. According to the American Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), these fluids need to come into direct contact with a mucus membrane (like a person’s eyes, nose or mouth) or an open wound.[1] Ebola lingers on a person’s skin after they die, so it’s imperative that people don’t touch dead bodies without proper protection.[2] This is problematic in some West African regions because of traditional funeral customs where family members wash, kiss and touch the bodies of their deceased loved ones.[4]

As infectious disease expert Tim Sly explains, Ebola is not as contagious as other more common illnesses like influenza and measles, which are airborne.[5] For Ebola, the incubation period is generally two to 21 days. If a person isn’t showing symptoms, they’re not yet contagious.[3]

Experts believe that Ebola comes from fruit bats. As the host, the bat is not affected, but can spread the disease to other animals—such as monkeys and human beings.[6] In West Africa, eating bush meat (usually wild monkeys and bats) is a common practice. Authorities are trying to quell this to minimize further transmission of the virus.[7]

According to the CDC, symptoms of Ebola can include:

  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Abdominal pain
  • Muscle pain
  • Unexplained bleeding or bruising. [8]


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[1]. “Transmission,” Centres for Disease Control and Prevention.

[2-3]. “Frequently asked questions on Ebola virus disease,” World Health Organization, August 2014.

[4]. Buck, Genna, “Ebola: Everything you need to know,” Maclean’s, August 31, 2014.

[5]. Sly, Tim, In conversation with the case study authors, Ryerson University, December 2, 2014.

[6]. “Ebola virus disease,” World Health Organization, September 2014.

[7]. Thomas R. Frieden, Inger Damon, Beth P. Bell, Thomas Kenyon, and Stuart Nichol, “Ebola 2014—New Challenges, New Global Response and Responsibility,” The New England Journal of Medicine 337, no. 1177-1180 (2014).

[8]. “Signs and Symptoms,” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.