Ebola

Ebola is a rare but serious viral disease that causes severe illness and can cause death. The risk of disease in Aotearoa New Zealand is low.

Key points about Ebola virus

  1. Ebola is a rare but serious illness that can cause death.
  2. If you are travelling to a place where there is an outbreak of the Ebola disease, be aware of the risk in that area and know how to reduce your risk of becoming infected.  
  3. Ebola is spread through direct contact with infected body fluids through broken skin or mucous membranes (such as the mouth or eyes).
  4. People most at risk are those who care for people with Ebola or those who handle their blood and body fluid.
  5. Signs and symptoms appear between 2 and 21 days after exposure to the virus (most commonly between days 8 and 10). People with Ebola are not infectious until symptoms appear.
  6. There are no approved vaccines available in New Zealand.
Monitor your health for 3 weeks after being in an area of the world with an Ebola outbreak. If you become unwell (with fever, chills, headache, muscle or joint aches, sore throat or weakness) seek emergency help in the country you are in. 

Causes

The Ebola virus was first discovered in 1976 near the Ebola River in Africa. Since then it has led to several outbreaks in several African countries. There are several different types of Ebola virus. It can be spread by direct contact between animals, from animals to humans and between humans. 

Animals able to spread the virus include chimpanzees, gorillas, monkeys, and fruit batsFor the latest news on Ebola outbreaks visit the World Health Organization's Ebola virus disease webpage. 

How is Ebola spread?

Although Ebola causes severe illness it's not easy to catch. 

Ebola is spread through direct contact with infected body fluids (such as blood, saliva, urine or faeces) through broken skin or mucous membranes (such as the mouth or eyes). It can also be spread by: 

  • direct contact with infected objects such as clothes, bedding and medical equipment 
  • touching infected animals  
  • contact with blood or other body fluids and organs of infected animals 
  • eating infected ‘bush meat’ – the meat of African wild animals.  

Ebola doesn't spread through the air. You can't catch Ebola from general contact like shaking hands or from sitting next to someone with Ebola.

Signs of illness

Symptoms of Ebola appear between 2 and 21 days after exposure to the virus (most commonly between days 8 and 10). A person can only spread Ebola to other people after they develop symptoms.

Early signs and symptoms include:

  • fever and chills
  • a headache
  • joint and muscle aches or pains
  • a sore throat
  • weakness.

More severe signs and symptoms appear as the illness progresses:

  • vomiting (being sick)
  • diarrhoea (runny poo) possibly containing blood
  • a rash
  • chest pain and a cough
  • stomach pain
  • worsening kidney and liver function
  • in some cases, internal bleeding as well as bleeding from ears, eyes, nose or mouth.​

People with Ebola tend to die from dehydration and multiple organ failure. Between 50% and 90% of people who become infected will die of the disease.

Treatment

Treatment includes:

  • treating dehydration by providing intravenous fluids (IV) and balancing electrolytes (body salts)
  • maintaining oxygen status and blood pressure
  • treating any infections that occur.

Recovery from Ebola depends on the person getting appropriate supportive care, and their individual immune response. After recovery, some people develop tiredness, muscle aches, eye and vision problems and stomach pain. People who recover from Ebola infection develop antibodies that last for at least 10 years.

For most types of Ebola virus there are no vaccines and no approved vaccines are available in Aotearoa New Zealand.

Travel advice

Even though the risk of catching Ebola is low, there are ways you can reduce any risk if you are travelling to an area where there is an Ebola outbreak.    

  • Check if the country you are travelling to has an outbreak of the Ebola virus.  
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water or use an alcohol-based hand sanitiser.
  • Avoid physical contact with anyone who has possible signs of infection and avoid touching items that may have come in contact with a sick person's blood or body fluids, eg, clothing, bedding, needles or medical equipment.
  • Healthcare providers or whānau and friends in close contact with a person who has Ebola should wear appropriate protective equipment (including masks, gowns, and gloves and eye protection). 
  • Avoid contact with people who have recently recovered from Ebola. 
  • Don't touch live or dead animals and their raw meat.
  • Don't not eat “bushmeat” (wild animals that have been killed for food).

Learn more

Ebola information for the public  Ministry of Health, NZ
Ebola World Health Organization, US
Ebola (Ebola virus disease) Center for Disease Control and Prevention, US
Is it COVI-D19 or Ebola? Center for Disease Control and Prevention, US
Is it Flu or Ebola? Center for Disease Control and Prevention, US

References

  1. Ebola – information for health professionals Ministry of Health, NZ, 2021
  2. Ebola NHS, UK, 2019 

Information for healthcare providers

Ebola – information for health professionals Ministry of Health, NZ, 2015
About Ebola virus disease Center for Disease Control and Prevention, US, 2014

Credits: Health Navigator Editorial Team. Last reviewed: 05 Oct 2022