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 virus outbreak in the Democratic Republic of the Congo
On 8 May 2018, the Ministry of Health of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) declared an outbreak of Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) in Bikoro Health Zone, Equateur Province. This is the ninth outbreak of EVD over the last four decades in the country, with the most recent one occurring in May 2017. 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 outbreak situation, including conducting risk assessments, responding to requests for information or assistance and issuing advice to relevant stakeholders.
A comprehensive and rapid response has been launched by the WHO, DRC Ministry of Health and coordinating partners and humanitarian response agencies.
Is Australia at risk?
The current risk for disease spread outside of the central African region is considered low due to the remoteness and inaccessibility of the area as well as the rapid response in place.
The risk to Australia is low. The risk of Ebola infection 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 central Africa region 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 Virus Disease?
- 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, prostration and malfunction of liver and kidneys.
- Some cases progress to multi-organ failure with internal and external bleeding. Between 50 to 90 per cent of cases are fatal.
How is Ebola virus spread?
Ebola virus exists in certain animal populations, such as fruit bats, chimpanzees, gorillas, monkeys, and forest antelope.
Humans may acquire Ebola virus 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 virus 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 virus can remain infectious for several weeks after recovery or death.
Ebola virus 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 virus is not airborne and cannot be caught by breathing air in proximity to a person with EVD.
How is Ebola Virus Disease prevented?
Practising good hygiene and implementing strong infection control measures around cases of EVD are the most effective ways to prevent further spread.
Close contact with animals and eating or handling raw or undercooked animal products should be avoided in countries where Ebola virus exists in animal populations.
As of late 2017, there is no routine vaccine for Ebola virus. Following the 2014-16 West African Ebola virus 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 virus diagnosed?
A blood test can diagnose Ebola virus.
How is Ebola Virus Disease treated?
There is no specific treatment for people who are sick with Ebola Virus Disease. Treatment consists of intensive supportive medical care. Early intervention can be life-saving.
What should I do if I become unwell with EVD symptoms when travelling in areas known to have animals with Ebola virus?
Seek immediate medical assistance and visit the local emergency department.
What countries should be considered at-risk for Ebola virus?
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.
Health professionals travelling to African countries should ensure they are familiar with and adhere to strict hygiene and isolation recommendations, and ensure personal protective equipment is used for any suspected EVD cases.
What advice on Ebola virus is available to health professionals?
If you are dealing with a suspected case of EVD, contact your state or territory’s public health unit.
The Australian Government Department of Health has several guidance resources available for health professionals:
- Infection prevention and control principles and recommendations for Ebola Virus Disease (pdf) (word)
- Ebolavirus Series of National Guidelines for Public Health Units (pdf) (word)
- Public Health Laboratory Network Information for Laboratories
- Information for GPs
- Information for clinicians (pdf) (word)