Hot topic: Authoritative Health Information on Emerging Infectious Diseases

By now I’m sure you have heard about the spread of Ebola in West Africa. Perhaps patrons at your library have asked questions about the disease. Maybe they are worried about the potential for Ebola to enter the United States, or maybe they have friends or family members living in a country affected by Ebola. As librarians, we know how important it is to direct the public to current, accurate, and authoritative sources of information. This can be difficult when a situation changes rapidly, and news media reports vary widely. In this post I will answer five often-asked questions about Ebola and point you to several authoritative sources of Ebola information.

Ebola Questions and Answers:

  1. What is Ebola, exactly?

Ebola is a disease caused by infection with one of the four Ebola virus strains (Zaire, Sudan, Bundibugyo, or Tai Forest virus).

  1. What are its symptoms?

Symptoms of Ebola include high fever, severe headache, muscle pain, vomiting, diarrhea, stomach pain, and unexplained bruising or bleeding.

  1. How is the disease spread?

Ebola can only be spread through direct contact via broken skin or mucous membranes with the bodily fluids of a person who is infected with the disease.

  1. How many people have Ebola?

As of today there are 3,707 suspected or confirmed cases of Ebola, and 1,848 suspected case deaths. That means there are approximately 1,850 people living with Ebola.

  1. What is the likelihood that the disease will spread to the United States?

According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), “Ebola poses no substantial risk to the U.S. general population.” (CDC, 2014) The CDC recommends that US travelers avoid all non essential trips to Guinea, Sierra Leone, and Liberia. In addition, the CDC and partners work at international airports and land borders to investigate cases of ill travelers entering the United States by plane or ship. Even if a person infected with Ebola were to enter the United States, it is highly unlikely they would spread the disease to their fellow passengers because a person with Ebola is not contagious until symptoms appear.

Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2014, August 28). Questions and answers on Ebola. Retrieved from

Authoritative Information on Ebola:

*Note: The sites I mention can also be used to find current, accurate health information on other infectious diseases or health topics!

  1. National Library of Medicine (NLM) Medline Plus Resource Guides



This guide includes information on Ebola and other hemorrhagic fevers written for the layperson. It also includes links to other credible sources of health information.

  1. CDC Resource page

This page contains a wealth of information, including a link to the latest news on the outbreak (

and an infographic (

  1. World Health Organization Ebola virus disease page

This excellent resource has maps, videos, and an infographic that responds to the health concerns of travellers (

I hope these resources help to ease any potential fears you or your patrons may have about the spread of Ebola. Or, if you’re like me, I hope you enjoy reading about infectious diseases!

If you would love to see a blog entry on a particular Hot Topic in our field, feel free to leave suggestions in the comments!


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