In the three West African countries most affected by the recent Ebola virus disease (EVD) outbreak, resistance to public health measures contributed to the startling speed and persistence of this epidemic in the region. But how do we explain this resistance, and how have people in these communities understood their actions? By comparing these recent events to historical precedents during Cholera outbreaks in Europe in the 19th century we show that these events have not been new to history or unique to Africa. Community resistance must be analysed in context and go beyond simple single-variable determinants. Knowledge and respect of the cultures and beliefs of the afflicted is essential for dealing with threatening disease outbreaks and their potential social violence.