Ebola Virus Disease

What is Ebola virus disease?

Ebola virus disease (EVD) is an infection caused by the Ebola virus. EVD usually starts with fever, headache, fatigue, diarrhea, and vomiting. It can quickly lead to severe illness, uncontrolled bleeding, and organ failure. EVD is a very dangerous illness that requires medical care.

The Ebola virus has been found in several countries in Africa. EVD may spread to other countries if people are infected and then travel when they are sick.

What is the cause?

Animals and humans may get infected with the Ebola virus. Ebola is not spread through the air or in water. The virus is spread by direct contact with infected body fluids, such as:

  • Having close contact, such as sharing eating utensils, kissing, or sexual contact with someone who has Ebola
  • Touching body fluids (saliva, blood, urine, vomit, or bowel movements) of someone who is sick or who has died
  • Getting droplets of infected body fluids into your nose, eyes, or mouth
  • Eating raw or undercooked meat from an infected animal

A person cannot spread the virus until they have symptoms.

You are not at risk for the virus unless you come in direct contact with someone who has Ebola or eat the meat of an infected animal. Your risk for getting Ebola increases if you travel to an area where the virus is present or care for someone infected with the virus.

What are the symptoms?

Symptoms can start 2 to 21 days after you come in contact with someone who is sick. Most people will have symptoms within 8 to 10 days. Symptoms may include:

  • Fever (higher than 100.4°F or 38°C)
  • Feeling very tired
  • Headache
  • Pain in the belly, muscles, joints or chest
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Rash

EVD can become severe very quickly and cause:

  • Dehydration, which means losing too much fluid from your body
  • Unexplained bleeding from the nose, eyes, mouth, rectum, or vagina
  • Confusion or coma
  • Very low blood pressure
  • Not being able to breathe well
  • Liver or kidney failure

How is it diagnosed?

Your healthcare provider will ask about your symptoms and medical history and examine you. Your provider needs to know your recent travel history and if you have been around someone sick or infected with the Ebola virus.

If your healthcare provider suspects you have Ebola virus, you will have tests, such as samples of fluid from your nose or throat, blood, urine, or bowel movements, to check for the virus or antibodies.

If you may have EVD, your provider will report it to the public health department and you may need to stay in the hospital. This can help prevent new infections.

How is it treated?

There are no medicines proven to cure EVD. Treatment can help control symptoms. If you have EVD, you will need to stay in the hospital. This also helps prevent spreading the virus to other people. Treatment may include:

  • Oral rehydration solution (a drink that replaces fluids and minerals) or IV fluids to treat or prevent fluid loss
  • Medicines to:
    • Help keep your blood pressure at the right level
    • Decrease fever or pain
    • Reduce nausea and vomiting
    • Prevent or treat other infections
    • Decrease anxiety
  • Oxygen, or if you have severe breathing problems, a tube in your throat and a machine to help you breathe
  • A blood transfusion to control bleeding or replace red blood cells that carry oxygen to your body
  • Dialysis, which uses a machine to help your kidneys remove waste products and extra water from your blood

When you are in the hospital, you will stay in a separate room and away from other people. You will not be able to leave the room until your healthcare provider says it’s OK. Everyone who cares for you will need to follow strict rules, such as wearing gloves, gowns, eye protection, and a mask or respirator when they care for you. A respirator is a kind of mask that can protect people from breathing in tiny liquid droplets. You may not be able to have visitors, or you may have limited contact with them.

How can I take care of myself?

Follow the full course of treatment prescribed by your healthcare provider. Ask your provider:

  • How and when you will hear your test results
  • How long it will take to recover
  • How to take care of yourself when you go home
  • If there are activities you should avoid and when you can return to your normal activities
  • What symptoms or problems you should watch for and what to do if you have them

Make sure you know when you should come back for a checkup. Keep all appointments for provider visits or tests.

How can I prevent the spread of EVD?

There is no vaccine to prevent EVD. If possible, avoid going to places where EVD is present. Get travel updates if you plan to travel. To reduce the risk of getting EVD, you should also:

  • Wash your hands often and especially after using the restroom, coughing, sneezing, or blowing your nose. Also wash your hands before eating or touching your eyes.
  • If you travel to West Africa, avoid hospitals or health centers that care for large numbers of people with EVD. You can get a list of these hospitals from the US Embassy or Consulate.
  • Avoid contact with people who have EVD. If you must be around people who are sick, wear a mask or respirator, gloves, gowns, and eye protection to avoid contact with body fluids.
  • Use soap and water to wash your hands and any exposed skin that came into contact with body fluids right away. Also use water or an eyewash solution to rinse your nose, mouth, and eyes.
  • Do not attend a funeral or burial of a person who has died from EVD.
  • If you travel to West Africa, avoid animals such as African fruit bats, antelope, porcupines, monkeys, or apes. Do not touch sick or dead animals without gloves. Do not eat raw or undercooked meat that came from these animals.

If you have been to an area where EVD is present or had close contact with someone who has EVD, you may have been exposed to the virus. You should tell your healthcare provider that you may have been exposed. You and your provider should watch for symptoms, such as fever, headache, or body aches, for 21 days.

If you have symptoms:

  • See a healthcare provider right away. Avoid close contact with others. Do not go to work, school, or public areas, and do not use public transportation. Do not share dishes, drinking glasses, cups, eating utensils, towels, bedding, or other items with other people. After using these items, they must be washed thoroughly with soap and warm water.
  • Call ahead before visiting your healthcare provider and tell him or her that you may have EVD.
  • Wear a facemask when you are in the same room with other people and when you visit a healthcare provider.

For more information, contact:

Developed by RelayHealth.
Adult Advisor 2015.1 published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2014-12-17
Last reviewed: 2014-12-15
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
Copyright ©1986-2015 McKesson Corporation and/or one of its subsidiaries. All rights reserved.

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