Ebola – information for the public

Ebola (or Ebola virus disease, EVD) is a viral disease that can cause severe bleeding, kidney and liver failure and in many cases, death.

Summary

Sporadic outbreaks of Ebola have been occurring in Africa for decades. Its origin is unknown but fruit bats are considered a likely host, based on available evidence.

Between December 2013 and December 2015 there was a large Ebola outbreak in West Africa.  However, as at December 2015 there are no longer any countries in West Africa experiencing widespread and intense disease transmission. For more information see the Ebola update.

Ebola is a severe illness but spread can be prevented.

How is it spread?

Although Ebola causes severe illness it is not easy to catch – it is not spread through the air and is not as infectious as the flu or measles. You can’t catch Ebola just by sitting next to an infected person on a plane – it requires contact with infected body fluids (such as blood, saliva, urine or faeces) through broken skin or mucous membranes (such as the mouth or eyes).

You can also catch Ebola by:

  • handling infected animals (chimpanzees, gorillas, monkeys, or fruit bats)
  • contact with blood or other body fluids and organs of infected animals
  • eating infected ‘bush meat’ – the meat of African wild animals.

Symptoms

Signs and symptoms of Ebola appear between 2 and 21 days (although usually between 8 and 10 days) after exposure to the virus. People with Ebola are not infectious before symptoms appear.

Early signs and symptoms include:

  • fever
  • severe headache
  • joint and muscle aches
  • chills
  • weakness.

As the disease progresses signs and symptoms become more severe and may include:

  • nausea and vomiting
  • diarrhoea (may be bloody)
  • rash
  • chest pain and a cough
  • stomach pain
  • severe weight loss
  • liver and/or kidney failure
  • internal bleeding
  • bleeding, usually from the eyes, and bruising (people near death may bleed from other orifices, such as ears, nose and rectum)

Between 50% and 90% of patients with Ebola will die of the disease.

Treatment

Care for Ebola is supportive – there are no specific approved vaccines or therapeutic (antiviral drug) options available.

Information on management of suspected Ebola cases has been provided to health professionals.

Prevention

Currently there is no approved vaccine available to prevent Ebola.

Although there are no countries currently experiencing widespread and intense disease transmission of Ebola, sporadic outbreaks of Ebola have been occurring in Africa for decades. There is also evidence to suggest that a very small proportion of survivors of Ebola infection may see the disease reactivate in an infectious form. Thus countries where an Ebola outbreak has recently ended may see isolated cases for an unknown period of time.

The Ministry recommends people should continue to be aware of the risks when travelling to such countries.

Advice if travelling to a previously affected country

  • Avoid visiting households or health care settings that have been affected by an Ebola outbreak or case.
  • Avoid direct contact with blood and other body fluids of people with Ebola, recently recovered from Ebola, or infected with unknown illnesses.
    • Avoid direct contact with bodies of people who died of Ebola or unknown illnesses.
    • Avoid unprotected sex with an infected person or a person recovering from Ebola. 
    • Avoid contact with any objects, such as needles, that have been contaminated with blood or body fluids.
    • Maintain strict standards of hygiene.
  • Avoid close contact with or handling of wild animals.
    • Avoid live or dead animals, as both can spread the virus. Animals such as chimpanzees, gorillas, monkeys and fruit bats may be carriers.
    • Avoid handling raw or undercooked wild meat.
  • Health care workers should practice strict infection control measures including the use of personal protective equipment (like gowns, masks, goggles and gloves).

Further advice for travellers is available from the Safe Travel website.

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