What is Ebola?
Ebola is a virus that can cause a severe, and often fatal, haemorrhagic disease in humans. The term “Ebola” may be used to refer to the Ebola virus itself, or the severe disease it causes (called Ebola Virus Disease, or EVD).
2018 Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of the Congo
On 1 August 2018, the Ministry of Health of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) declared an outbreak of Ebola in the North Kivu and Ituri Provinces of DRC.
On 17 July 2019, the WHO Director-General officially declared the Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) outbreak in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC) following a meeting of the International Health Regulations Emergency Committee for EVD in the DRC on 17 July 2019.
A comprehensive and rapid response by the WHO, DRC Ministry of Health and coordinating partners and humanitarian response agencies is ongoing. The situation continues to evolve and further detailed information, including situation reports and information on case numbers, is available on the WHO website.
The Australian Government Department of Health is monitoring the situation, including conducting risk assessments, responding to requests for information or assistance and issuing advice to relevant stakeholders.
Is Australia at risk?
Australia is very well prepared and the risk to Australia is very low. The risk of Ebola spreading is extremely low unless there has been direct exposure to the bodily fluids of an infected person or animal (alive or dead).
A range of advice for public health professionals on Ebola is available on the Department of Health website.
International travellers to the DRC or countries on its eastern border are advised to check the latest Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) travel advice on the Smartraveller website.
What are the symptoms of Ebola?
- The first symptoms of the disease include fever, along with muscle aches, headache, weakness and fatigue.
- Later symptoms include vomiting and diarrhoea, headaches and confusion, bruising, rash, sore throat, cough, collapse and malfunction of liver and kidneys.
- Some cases progress to multi-organ failure with internal and external bleeding. On average, around 50 per cent of cases are fatal.
How is Ebola spread?
Ebola exists in certain animal populations, such as fruit bats, chimpanzees, gorillas, monkeys, and forest antelope.
Humans may acquire Ebola from animals through close contact with blood, secretions, organs or other bodily fluids of infected animals (for example, hunting animals for food).
Once in the human population, Ebola further spreads between people by close contact with blood, secretions, or bodily fluids of infected people, including through sexual contact. People who have been infected with Ebola can remain infectious for several weeks after recovery or death.
Ebola can survive outside of the body for some time, which means that it can be spread between humans through contact with environments contaminated with fluids of infected people, including in healthcare settings.
Ebola is not airborne and cannot be caught by breathing air close to a person with Ebola.
How is Ebola prevented?
When living in or traveling to a region where Ebola is present, there are a number of ways to minimise the risk of infection. Practicing good hand hygiene and implementing good infection control measures around cases of Ebola are the most effective way of preventing spread of the Ebola virus. Proper hand hygiene means washing hands often with soap and water or an alcohol-based hand sanitizer, especially before touching eyes, nose or mouth, eating, and after using the toilet or touching objects at high risk of being contaminated.
While in an area affected by Ebola, it is important to specifically avoid the following:
- Contact with blood and body fluids (such as urine, feces, saliva, sweat, vomit, breast milk, semen, and vaginal fluids).
- Items that may have come in contact with an infected person’s blood or body fluids (such as clothes, bedding, needles, and medical equipment).
- Funeral or burial rituals that require handling the body of someone who died from Ebola, even if no blood or bodily fluids are visible;
- Contact with bats and nonhuman primates or blood, fluids and raw or undercooked meat prepared from these animals (bushmeat) or meat from an unknown source. Handling or eating raw or undercooked animal products should be avoided in countries where Ebola exists in animal populations.
If symptoms consistent with Ebola develop, seek immediate medical attention.
As of late 2018, there is no routine vaccine for Ebola. Following the 2014-16 West African Ebola outbreak, experimental vaccines have been developed and trialled for potential use in emergency situations and at-risk populations, but these experimental vaccines are not yet widely available and not for general use.
How is Ebola diagnosed?
A blood test can diagnose Ebola.
How is Ebola treated?
There is no specific treatment for people who are sick with Ebola. Treatment consists of intensive supportive medical care. Early intervention can be life-saving. Experimental therapies have been made available to treat patients during the most recent outbreak, under the World Health Organization’s Monitored Emergency Use of Unregistered Interventions (MEURI) framework.
What should I do if I become unwell with Ebola symptoms when travelling in areas known to have an outbreak or animals who may carry Ebola?
Seek immediate medical assistance and advise of your travel history.
What countries should be considered at-risk for Ebola?
Ebola virus is naturally found in animals in several African countries. The Australian Government Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade operates the Smartraveller website which provides country-specific advice and should be consulted before travelling overseas.