Talking to kids about the Ebola virus


Heavy media coverage of the Ebola epidemic in West Africa along with isolated cases in the U.S. may leave parents wondering what they need to know about Ebola infection, and how to help their children understand news of the disease. The American Academy of Pediatrics has compiled a comprehensive post on their blog,, to keep parents informed.

The post includes an audio interview with Yvonne Maldonado, MD, chief of pediatric infectious disease at Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital Stanford, who appeared in August on AAP’s Healthy Children show on RadioMD. She explained the limits on how the virus can be transmitted:

“Transmission occurs from bodily fluids of an infected person. And as far as we know, to date, we have never seen transmission occur from an infected person who does not have symptoms. So all of the infections have occurred from people who have symptoms of the disease and transmit from infected bodily fluids.”

The most immediate problem for most American parents is helping their children respond to traumatic news about those who have contracted the disease.

“Children really need to get the message that their parents, caretakers, community and society are taking care of them,” said Victor Carrion, MD, director of the Stanford Early Life Stress Research Program.

He advises that limiting exposure to alarming media reports about Ebola is a good starting point, particularly for young children. For kids who are old enough to access news or social media posts on their own, parents should discuss the news honestly but need not force detailed information on their kids.

“Children usually want an answer to a question,” Carrion said. “You don’t have to elaborate beyond their specific question, other than to tell them they can always come to you with more questions.”

In their blog post, the AAP also gives useful tips for how parents can talk to their kids about Ebola. The AAP suggests telling children:

  • They are safe.
  • Our health care system is among the best in the world for taking care of sick people.
  • Ebola is rare and does not exist everywhere. When cases are found, the person with the infection is taken to a safe place to be cared for so that he can get better and not make anyone else sick.
  • Doctors and scientists who know a lot about Ebola are working hard to find ways to prevent or cure this illness.

Discover more about our Pediatric Infectious Diseases Program or call (650) 723-6299.


Leave a Reply

  • (will not be published)