CRF Blog

Backgrounder on Ebola Virus

by Bill Hayes

Backgrounders from the Council on Foreign Relations are primers on pressing world issues. They usually include histories, summaries, images, graphs, video, and links to additional resources.

A recent Backgrounder was on Ebola Virus.

Ebola is a severe and often fatal illness that attacks the immune system and causes extreme fluid loss in its victims. The disease disrupts the blood clotting system, which can lead to internal and external bleeding. Early symptoms include fever, muscle pain, headache, and sore throat, and are followed by vomiting, diarrhea, rash, and bleeding. Most fatalities are caused by severe dehydration or low blood pressure related to fluid loss.

Ebola was first discovered in 1976 in the Democratic Republic of Congo (then Zaire), where it killed 280 people. The virus is named after the Ebola River, in the Congolese region where it was first identified. The largest outbreak prior to 2014 was in Uganda in 2000: 425 were infected and 224 died. Though Ebola fatality rates vary from 25 percent to 90 percent, the WHO has placed the mortality rate in the 2014 West Africa outbreak at 70 percent. [more]