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Ebola virus disease (EVD), formerly known as Ebola haemorrhagic fever, is a human illness caused by infection with an Ebola virus. There are five known species of Ebola viruses, four of which cause human illness. The Zaire Ebola virus was the first Ebola virus ever isolated. The virus caused the first reported outbreaks of EVD in 1976 in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the Sudan. The name of the disease comes from the first recorded outbreak in 1976 in an area that lies on the Ebola River.

For updates on Ebola virus disease and details on human health, please refer to WHO.

Ebola viruses are spread among humans through direct contact of broken skin or mucous membranes with body fluids from infected people who are sick with or have died from the disease, or contact with surfaces and materials that are contaminated with bodily fluids from infected people.

EVD is a zoonotic disease, or a disease that can be transmitted between animals and humans. The natural reservoir host of Ebola has not yet been confirmed, but certain species of fruit-eating bats are believed to be the principal animal reservoirs of Ebola viruses. Research has demonstrated that bats can carry the virus without showing clinical signs of illness. Ebola viruses have also been detected in forest dwelling wildlife species such as non-human primate (apes and monkeys), and duikers (i.e. a small wild antelope).

What is FAO doing with regard to the current outbreak?

The World Health Organization (WHO) is the authority and primary source of information regarding the human health aspects of this outbreak. FAO is fully engaged in this multisectoral coordination at the national, regional and international levels through the activation of an FAO Ebola Incident Coordination Group. FAO will monitor the situation closely and provide additional information related to animal health as it becomes available. To support these efforts, FAO can build on its experience working with networks of veterinary services and allied community animal kealth workers, producer organizations, forestry contacts, agriculture extension services, aquaculture workers and fish farmers, and local animal health clubs, to improve community knowledge about EVD and to support risk communication with affected and non-affected populations. It is critical for communities – urban and rural – to understand practices that pose the highest risks of human-to-human transmission and potential spillover events from wildlife so people can make informed decisions.

Key messages

  • The mechanism of spread of EVD in the current outbreak in the Democratic Republic of the Congo is human-to-human transfer of the virus.
  • Meat from healthy livestock that is safely prepared and cooked remains safe to eat.
  • Any unusual morbidity or mortality of animals should be reported to the animal health authorities.
  • Fruit-eating bats are believed to be the principal animal reservoirs of Ebola viruses. With the exception of bats, healthy, wild animals hunted, slaughtered, handled and consumed as wild meat (also called “bush meat”) present negligible to no risk to humans if good hygiene, proper protection and appropriate cooking practices are followed.


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