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What is Ebola? We answer all of your questions about Ebola and how we're helping fight its spread.

Water, Hygiene and Sanitation Engineer Patricia supervises the construction of latrines, showers, and schools in Mbandandka, DRC. Photo: Alain Nking/Oxfam

Ebola—it’s a word that strikes fear. Perhaps that’s because it’s an unfamiliar virus, one that moves quickly, is contagious, and here in the US, we haven’t had much contact with it. As an outbreak claims lives in the DRC, we breakdown what Ebola is, what’s happening in the DRC, and what Oxfam is doing to help.

What is Ebola?

This rare, infectious—and often fatal—disease was discovered in 1976 in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) near the Ebola River. Scientists believe that bats are the most likely carriers of the Ebola virus. Symptoms include the sudden onset of fever, fatigue, muscle pain, headache, and sore throat. This is followed by vomiting, diarrhea, rash, and in some cases, bleeding.

How is Ebola transmitted?

People can catch the Ebola virus through close contact with the blood, organs, or other bodily fluids of infected animals. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the disease spreads from person to person through direct contact—via broken skin or through the eyes, nose, and mouth—with the blood or body fluids of someone who is sick. People remain infectious as long as their blood and body fluids, including semen and breast milk, contain the virus. Men can still transmit the virus through their semen for several weeks after recovery from illness.

Why is Ebola in the news right now?

Tresor is a hygienist on the Prevention and Disinfection Commission at the Ebola Treatment Center in the Equateur Province of the DRC. Photo: Alain Nking/Oxfam

The DRC declared an Ebola outbreak on May 8. There were more than 50 cases in the northwest part of the country, resulting in over 20 deaths. The DRC regularly has outbreaks of Ebola, but this one was of larger concern after cases occurred in Mbandaka, an urban area of over one million people.

Oxfam responded with a public awareness drive, going door to door, working with community groups, and carrying out mass outreach activities, including film screenings and working with local community radio stations. We installed chlorinated water points in hospitals, health centers, schools, and ports; provided disinfection and hygiene kits; and disinfected houses where Ebola has been detected.

By July 24, the Ebola outbreak in Equateur province in the western part of the DRC was officially declared over. Nine days later, however, the country’s Ministry of Health confirmed four new cases in the Mangina area in the territory of Beni, more than 1,553 miles from the recent outbreak.

“This outbreak comes at a time when the country is already unstable, with millions of people caught up in humanitarian crises as a result of ongoing conflicts,” said Jose Barahona, Oxfam DRC country director. “People are hungry and at risk of disease and many have had to flee their homes. Beni has been deeply unstable for the past few years due to armed conflict, and Ebola poses a serious risk to communities already on the edge and threatens our ability to help them."

How is Oxfam helping?

Oxfam is launching a new response. We will be working with communities, local partners, and other agencies in the area, providing clean water, sanitation structures, and training community health workers and community leaders to spread information around prevention, identification, and treatment. We have also launched an outreach campaign over radio, billboards, and text messaging to help people protect themselves.

In Beni, Oxfam’s ongoing work is reaching thousands of displaced people and host communities with food, clean safe water, and sanitation facilities.

Oxfam is on the ground providing clean water, hand-washing stations, public health education and more. We urgently need more support to stop the spread of Ebola before it claims more lives.

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