The Ebola Outbreak in DRC: What You Need to Know

Ebola Epidemic

By Domenica Di Piazza, Editorial Director of Twenty-First Century Books

With a new outbreak of Ebola in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) in central Africa, I asked TFCB medical writer Connie Goldsmith to investigate and share more with us about what’s happening there. Connie is the author of TFCB’s The Ebola Epidemic: The Fight, The Future, which came out for YA readers at the height of the crisis in 2016. Here’s what she has to say about this latest outbreak.

Ebola. The deadly virus killed more than 11,000 people in the 2014-2016 epidemic that struck Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea in West Africa. As devastating as that epidemic was, a new outbreak of Ebola in the DRC has world health officials fearing the worst. On November 12, 2018, the DRC’s minister of public health, Oly Ilunga Kalenga, said, “No other epidemic in the world has been as complex as the one we are currently experiencing.”

What is Ebola?

Ebola is a highly contagious virus first discovered in 1976. Scientists believe bats are the host for the virus. Once human infection occurs, Ebola is easily spread from person to person by contact with bodily fluids, both before and after death. Temporary quarantine isolation of people who have associated with an Ebola patient is the most effective way to control its spread. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend these steps when in areas or with people affected by the virus:

  • avoid contact with contaminated bodily fluids
  • avoid contact with items that have come in contact with the bodily fluids of an infected person
  • avoid contact with bats
  • do not eat bushmeats (raw meats from bats or nonhuman primates)
  • do not eat unknown meats

A New Outbreak

The World Health Organization reports as of November 24, 2018, that the new outbreak of Ebola in the DRC has killed 236 of the 412 people it has sickened—a 57% mortality rate. (Check the WHO website for regular updates.) While statistically that’s not a lot of people, several factors make the current outbreak especially dangerous:

  1. The DRC region where most cases have occurred is an active war zone involving about 120 rebel groups, hindering medical personnel from caring for Ebola patients. Kalenga said, “Since their arrival in the region, the response teams have faced threats, physical assaults . . . and kidnapping. Two of our colleagues . . . lost their lives in an attack.” Never before has Ebola occurred in an active war zone.
  2. People in the DRC have little trust in the government, which has failed to stop warfare and to provide basic services. Some people believe the virus doesn’t exist or that the government itself created the outbreak. This distrust extends to international aid workers whose presence often causes sick people to flee, carrying the deadly virus with them.
  3. Officials fear Ebola will spread eastward into Uganda, Rwanda, and South Sudan, and from there into heavily populated central African countries.
  4. Ebola may become endemic—always present—in the DRC. Until this outbreak, health officials have managed to locate and treat all known cases, preventing its spread. Once a disease is endemic to a region, it is extremely difficult to eliminate.

Conflict has displaced more than four million people in the DRC. Health care workers cannot help people who are running for their lives. “Based on the security situation and [Ebola’s] ability to spread … it’s not under control,” said Nora Love, coordinator for the International Rescue Committee. “There’s potential for it to explode.”

To learn more about how and why Ebola and other deadly diseases are on the rise around the globe, check out Pandemic, Connie’s latest YA title from TFCB, new in Fall 2018. It’s an informative, eye-opening overview of the relationship between disease and climate change, deforestation, war, global travel, and other forces.

pandemic cover


[1] Oly Ilunga Kalenga in Saleh Mwanamilongo, “Congo ministry says Ebola outbreak worst in nation’s history.” Washington Post, 11/10/18. Accessed 11/12/18.

[2] accessed 11/13/18.

[3] Oly Ilunga Kalenga in Saleh Mwanamilongo, “Congo ministry says Ebola outbreak worst in nation’s history.” Washington Post, 11/10/18. Accessed 11/12/18.

[4] Accessed 11/12/18.

[5] Nora Love in Lauren Weber, “Experts Said a War Zone Ebola Outbreak Would Be a Nightmare. It’s Been Even Worse.” Huffington Post, 10/11/18. Accessed 11/13/18.

Other posts by Domenica.


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