Ebola (Ebola virus disease) is a rare and often fatal illness caused by the Ebola virus.
People only become infected with the Ebola virus if they have direct contact with the blood or other bodily fluids of an infected person or animal.
A vast majority of people with Ebola live in Africa. Several outbreaks have occurred there since the disease was first recorded, including a major outbreak in the Democratic Republic of the Congo in 2018.
What is the Ebola virus?
The Ebola virus lives in wild animals such as bats, monkeys, chimpanzees and gorillas. However, the virus can spread to a human if they have close contact with an infected animal.
There is no evidence that the virus lives in any wild animals in Australia.
In humans, the virus spreads through direct contact with the blood, secretions or other bodily fluids of an infected person, or items contaminated with their fluids.
Ebola virus symptoms
The first signs of Ebola are usually fever, severe headache, muscle pains and weakness. Other symptoms follow, such as vomiting, diarrhoea, sore throat, rash and malfunctioning of the liver and kidneys. Eventually, there may be severe internal and external bleeding and organ failure.
These symptoms start between 2 and 21 days after infection with the virus. Humans are infectious when they develop these symptoms.
During previous outbreaks in Africa, Ebola has been fatal in between 50% and 90% of cases. Should a case occur in Australia, it's likely that the chances of surviving the infection would be higher because of the quality of the health services here.
Who is at risk of getting Ebola?
People who live in or travel to affected areas of Africa may be at risk of infection; however, the risk is extremely low unless they have had direct exposure to the bodily fluids of an infected person, including their blood, saliva, urine, faeces, breast milk, vomit or semen.
You could get infected if you have unprotected sexual contact with someone who has had Ebola up to several months after they have recovered. You could also get the disease if you have contact with the bodily fluids of an infected animal (alive or dead).
Caring for relatives with Ebola is a known risk factor for infection. Healthcare workers are also at risk, particularly in countries where there is poor control of infection.
If you arrive in Australia from an Ebola-affected country and you feel unwell, you should talk to a Customs officer at your point of arrival.
If you have recently travelled to or lived in an area where Ebola is present, and you feel unwell, you should see a doctor or go to a hospital emergency department to discuss your symptoms and travel history and to seek advice.
While you may not have been infected with the Ebola virus, you may have been exposed to other serious illnesses that share the same symptoms. Seeing a doctor early is advised.
Ebola virus diagnosis and treatment
Ebola is diagnosed where a blood test shows the virus is present in the blood of an infected person. A urine test and throat or nose swabs may also be done to look for the virus.
Once diagnosed, an infected person needs to go to hospital where they can be given intensive care such as intravenous fluids and blood transfusions. They will be isolated from other patients, and staff and visitors will need to take precautions.
There is currently no cure for Ebola. However, intensive medical care in Western nations such as Australia can be life-saving. Research is underway to develop an effective vaccine for the Ebola virus.
Visit the Department of Health website for more information on Ebola, including:
- general Ebola information
- symptoms and risk factors for Ebola virus infection
- a list of countries affected by Ebola (World Health Organization visual maps)
Last reviewed: January 2019