Questions and answers about Ebola virus disease

What is Ebola?

Ebola virus disease, or Ebola haemorrhagic fever as it was previously known, is caused by the Ebola virus. It is a rare but severe disease, found in countries in Africa, which can often lead to death (about 65% of the infected people).

Transmission usually occurs from person to person through direct contact with blood and other body fluids.

The first documented outbreak of Ebola virus disease occurred in 1976 in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, at the time known as Zaire.

What are the symptoms of Ebola?

In most cases, an infected person experiences

  • sudden onset of fever
  • weakness, muscle and joint pains
  • headache

This is followed by

  • progressive weakness
  • lack of appetite
  • diarrhoea (sometimes containing blood and mucus)
  • nausea and vomiting.

The initial symptoms are unspecific and are similar to other more common diseases such as the common cold or malaria.

The next stage is more severe with bleeding from the nose, gums and skin, and bloody vomiting and stools.

Other symptoms include skin rash, inflamed throat and difficulty swallowing.

It can take between 2 and 21 days from the point of infection for a person to begin to show symptoms.

How can I get infected?

You can get infected with the Ebola virus through contact with infected blood, secretions, tissues, organs or other bodily fluids of dead or living infected people or animals.  Most people are infected from another person.

People can also get infected by touching surfaces contaminated with infectious material.

The virus can also be contracted through unprotected sexual contact with patients who have recovered from the disease.

It is transmitted by droplets and not in the air, so it is very unlikely that someone would be infected with Ebola virus disease through casual contact with an infected person, such as by sitting next to them.

Some people have been infected with it from handling dead wild animals or 'bush meat' in Africa, such as chimpanzees and bats.

How can I protect myself against Ebola infection?

People visiting or residing in affected countries should take the following measures:

  • avoid contact with symptomatic patients and/or their bodily fluids
  • avoid contact with corpses and/or bodily fluids from deceased patients
  • avoid contact with wild animals (including monkeys, forest antelopes, rodents and bats), both alive and dead, and consumption of ‘bush meat’
  • washing hands regularly, using soap or antiseptics

When should I seek medical attention?

You should seek medical attention if

  • you develop fever, muscle aches, weakness, headache and sore throat
  • you have been in a known affected area
  • you had contact with blood, secretions, organs or other bodily fluids of dead or living infected persons or animals.

How contagious is it?

People only become infectious once they start to have symptoms. The likelihood of infection is much higher in the later stages of the disease but can be effectively addressed with the use of personal protective equipment.

How deadly is it?

The proportion of people diagnosed with the disease who die is estimated to be around 65%, but it varies per virus species.

Is there a vaccine available?

Two vaccines are now licensed for use in several countries against Ebola virus disease from the Zaire ebolavirus. There are no treatments against Ebola virus disease caused by other ebolavirus species.

What is the treatment?

There are two drugs that have drastically reduced the death rates of individuals infected with Zaire ebolavirus. To date there are no treatments approved against Ebola virus disease due to other ebolavirus species.

What precautions should I take when traveling to a country with an Ebola outbreak?

Check with your national authorities for travel advice on whether to travel to a country affected by an Ebola outbreak and other health information, including access to healthcare for reasons other than Ebola virus disease.

Is there a risk that travellers from affected countries will bring Ebola to Europe?

People infected with Ebola may arrive in the EU/EEA without knowing they have contracted the disease. They may show symptoms while travelling, once reaching their destination or some days later.

The current risk for secondary transmission of Ebola virus within the EU/EEA and the implementation of sustained chains of transmission within the EU/EEA is very low as cases are likely to be promptly identified and isolated and follow up control measures are likely to be implemented. 

Where does Ebola come from?

Ebola viruses are thought to circulate in wild animals in sub-Saharan Africa. They have been found in fruit bats, chimpanzees, gorillas and duikers, and human infections have been linked to direct contact with such animals.

How can an outbreak be stopped?

An outbreak of Ebola virus disease can be stopped by breaking the chains of transmission. This can be done by isolating suspected and confirmed patients to prevent onward transmission. People who have been in close contact with patients are also contacted and monitored to identify possible infections.

Page last updated 27 Oct 2022