Ebola virus disease
About Ebola virus
Ebola virus disease is a serious illness that originated in Africa, where a large outbreak occurred in 2014-15. In June 2016, the outbreak was officially declared over.
The 2014-15 outbreak of Ebola mainly affected three countries in west Africa: Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone. Some cases also occurred in parts of central Africa.
Around 28,000 cases and more than 11,000 deaths were reported by the World Health Organization. This was the largest known outbreak of Ebola.
Is Ebola still a risk?
There's still a small chance occasional cases of Ebola may occur in Africa as the virus is present in several countries there, but the risk for people travelling to Africa is minimal.
People who remain most at risk are those who care for infected people or handle their blood or fluid, such as hospital workers, laboratory workers and family members.
To find out what the health risks are for an area you're planning to visit, check the NHS Fit for Travel destination guide, Travel Health Pro country information or GOV.UK foreign travel advice.
The risk of an Ebola outbreak occurring in the UK remains negligible.
Symptoms of Ebola
A person infected with Ebola virus will typically develop:
- a high temperature (fever)
- a headache
- joint and muscle pain
- a sore throat
- severe muscle weakness
These symptoms start suddenly between 2 and 21 days after becoming infected.
Diarrhoea, vomiting, a rash, stomach pain and reduced kidney and liver function can follow. The person may then bleed internally, and may also bleed from the ears, eyes, nose or mouth.
What to do if you become ill
Get medical advice as soon as possible if you become ill while travelling abroad. Call the NHS 24 '111' service or contact your GP if you become ill after returning to the UK.
It's extremely unlikely you have Ebola, but it could be another serious condition such as cholera or malaria, so it's a good idea to get help in case you need tests or treatment.
Always remember to mention your recent travel history, as this will help identify what the problem could be.
Sometimes your doctor may want to take a sample of your blood, urine or stools so it can be checked for any infections.
How Ebola virus is spread
The Ebola virus is spread in the blood, body fluids or organs of a person or animal with the infection.
For example, it can be spread by:
- directly touching the body of someone with the infection who has symptoms or recently died – the virus can survive for several days outside the body
- cleaning up body fluids (blood, stools, urine or vomit) or touching the soiled clothing of an infected person
- handling unsterilised needles or medical equipment used in the care of the infected person
- having sex with an infected person without using a condom – studies show traces of Ebola may remain in a man's semen many months after he has recovered
- handling or eating raw or undercooked 'bushmeat'
Ebola can't be caught through routine social contact, such as shaking hands, with people who don't have symptoms.
Treatment for Ebola
There's currently no licensed treatment or vaccine for Ebola, although potential new vaccines and drug therapies are being developed and tested.
Any area affected by an outbreak should be immediately quarantined, and people confirmed to have the infection should be treated in isolation in intensive care.
Dehydration is common, so fluids may be given directly into a vein. Blood oxygen levels and blood pressure also need to be maintained at the right level, and body organs supported while the person's body fights the infection.
Healthcare workers need to avoid contact with the bodily fluids of their infected patients by taking strict precautions, such as wearing protective equipment.
Ebola virus disease is sometimes fatal. The sooner a person is given care, the better the chance they'll survive.
Follow these simple precautions to minimise your risk of picking up potentially serious infections:
- wash your hands frequently using soap and water – use alcohol hand rubs when soap isn't available
- make sure fruit and vegetables are properly washed and peeled before you eat them
- avoid physical contact with anyone who has possible symptoms of an infection
- don't handle dead animals or their raw meat
- don't eat 'bushmeat'
You can check the advice for an area you're planning to visit using the NHS Fit for Travel destination guide, Travel Health Pro country information or GOV.UK foreign travel advice.
01 April 2021
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