If you were trying to design a “perfect” epidemic…that is, perfect from the infectious organism’s point of view, it wouldn’t be ebola. There are infectious organisms in the past that have been much more “successful.” I had to face this consideration when writing “Antidote,” as a group of dedicated Georgian terrorists were trying to infect the Russian High Command. Ebola would have been a poor choice to do so–MRSA (in the variant presented) does a much better job.
“Success” for an organism is the ability to remain in its target population for many years, to expand, and to be difficult to eradicate. Examples of successful organisms include malaria, AIDS and the bubonic plague.
Organisms like ebola have been identified and followed since before the 1960s. They have generally been limited to as few as 300 victims within a narrow geographic range, starting on the Ebola River. They were spread only by close physical contact with the infected person during the active phase of viral shedding, and shortly after death.
Custom in Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea is to stay with the very sick, and to wrap, wash and kiss them after death. Recent warnings from health authorities in all three countries has not stemmed local tendencies to treat ebola-infected family members in their time-honored fashion.
Ebola is difficult to communicate, however, through other means. It does not tend to spread through aerosol, nor does it dry up and remain viable as dust. The virus is not generally passed during the incubation phase–only during the four to five days of active viral shedding in up to 10 liters of liquids per day (blood, feces, other bodily fluids).
For the above reason, ebola virus is a poor candidate for transmission, unlike other viruses and bacteria.