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12 Shockingly Absurd Rumors People Believe About Ebola.

Updated on October 3, 2015

Ebola: A deadly illness or a government conspiracy?

The current Ebola outbreak in Africa is the deadliest in history, and has shown little sign of slowing down. The death toll is now estimated at nearly 3,500. Around 70% of cases are fatal. This epidemic could become a disaster of historic proportions. African governments have proven unable to contain the outbreak on their own, and international aid has been inadequate and slow to arrive. One might think that under such circumstances, populations in infected areas and especially infected individuals themselves would gratefully accept whatever aid the international community is willing to provide. In reality, foreign aid has met much resistance, which has greatly complicated relief efforts. There is much ignorance, confusion, and misinformation in infected areas regarding what the disease is, how it is transmitted and treated, and the international community’s role in its containment. Consequently, there have emerged a plethora of absurd rumors and conspiracy theories that are widely believed in infected areas. Here are a twelve of them:

  1. The government is conspiring to sell Ebola patients’ blood
  2. Aid agencies seek to sell patients’ organs on the black market
  3. Patients will have their limbs removed for ritualistic purposes
  4. Aid workers will purposely transmit the disease through a widely used disinfectant
  5. Health workers will inject them with Ebola or other lethal substances, possibly for the purposes of drug experimentation.
  6. The virus was invented by the government to collect donations
  7. Healthcare workers are so afraid of the disease that they will neglect quarantined patients, resulting in their starvation
  8. The infected are purposely being exterminated
  9. Ebola can be contracted from motorcycle helmets
  10. “Ebola is an evil snake that will kill you if you look at it” (
  11. Ebola is transmitted through mosquitoes and drinking water
  12. Ebola is a curse

CDC says Ebola could infect 1.4 million by January

Fear and rumors hinder containment of Ebola outbreak

Aid workers attacked, fatalities

Such rumors are widely believed and regularly reported in local African newspapers and other venues. The result has been a climate of fear in which individuals and communities refuse to accept aid and treatment and purposely obstruct such efforts, at times resorting to violence. Healthcare facilities and aid workers have been attacked, resulting in numerous casualties. Some communities have completely refused entrance to health workers. Individuals avoid seeking treatment and hide from health workers who attempt to isolate them, reportedly even going to such great lengths as to change their names. Such individuals sometimes seek alternative treatment, which does not work and risks spreading the virus further. There have been a number of rumors of home remedies that can treat the virus, including:

  • A combination of Nescafe, cocoa, and sugar
  • Two large onions
  • Kola nuts
  • Rubbing onions and limes on one’s body

How worried are you that Ebola will spread outside of west Africa?

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People fear an Ebola outbreak in the US

Special healing powers

Many have also sought treatment from tribal doctors, traditional healers, herbalists, witch doctors, and individuals said to have supernatural curative powers. The outbreak in Sierra Leone has been traced backed to one such healer, who claimed to have magical abilities to cure Ebola. Infected individuals from Guinea crossed the border into Sierra Leone for her treatment. The healer herself eventually contracted Ebola and died. At her funeral, attendees touched the infected corpse, becoming infected themselves and bringing the virus back to Sierra Leone. This is a common way in which the virus has spread. There has also been at least one reported incident of an exorcism, in which those performing the ritual touched the infected individual. There have even been rumors of deceased Ebola victims being brought back from the dead.

Some Americans have no confidence that the US government can prevent an Ebola outbreak.

Ebola scams and pranks

Some falsities have been the result of deliberate scams or pranks. Crooks knowingly sell fake vaccines or other treatments. One alleged Nigerian scammer promises he can cure the disease with only these common household items:

  • “The heart of a Cobra
  • A red piece of clothing
  • The eyeball of a porcupine
  • The wings of a bat
  • A 14-year-old tortoise
  • Seven hairs from a lion’s private parts.”(

Not all hoaxes, though, have such malicious origins. One incident began as what was seemingly intended as a harmless joke. A Nigerian student sent a single text message claiming that drinking large amounts of salt water can prevent Ebola. The message spread rapidly, largely through social media, and many followed the bogus advice. Ultimately, 2 people died and at least 20 were hospitalized due to high blood pressure resulting from excessive salt intake.

Ebola: Nigeria to arrest those behind Salt-water rumor

Ebola zombies

It is not only in Africa in which falsehoods about Ebola have gained traction. There was a rumor in China that some deceased Ebola victims become zombies. China’s official news agency released an article attempting to dispel this fallacy. As a piece by Quartz notes (, its choice of words was questionable. The Chinese article asserts that “An Ebola sufferer may lose consciousness or faint, making him or her appear dead… But a few hours or even days later the patient may suddenly come to and enter an extremely violent state, tearing at and biting anything that moves, including people and animals.” Quartz calls these claims “highly suspect,” saying that there had not yet been any such incidents. Zombie rumors have recently began to spread in the West to some extent as well. There has also been other widespread Ebola misinformation in the West, although generally more innocuous and less ridiculous.

Ebola Zombies

Education needed to contain Ebola

In order to counter and prevent such rumors and help contain the virus, a campaign of education is needed, say experts. Much of the virus’s transmission could potentially be prevented by effectively providing people with accurate information, teaching them basic sanitation practices, and communicating the need to seek professional help when ill and comply with the orders of health workers and governments. Until then, rumors will continue to proliferate and spread, the epidemic will continue to worsen, and people will needlessly lose their lives.

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