Ebola: Frequently Asked Questions
Published 21/08/2014 | 19:30
These are answers to frequently asked questions about the Ebola virus, which have been issued by the HSE.
What is Ebola virus disease (EVD)?
Ebola is a severe, infectious often-fatal disease in humans and nonhuman primates (monkeys, gorillas, and chimpanzees) caused by infection with Ebola virus. Ebola virus does not transmit through the air as influenza does. After two days and up to 21 days following exposure to the virus the disease may start suddenly with fever, muscle aches, weakness, headache and sore throat. The next stage of the disease is characterised by vomiting, diarrhoea, rash and failure of the liver and kidneys. Some patients also have heavy internal and external bleeding and multi-organ failure.
How is it spread?
The natural reservoir of the virus is unknown and it is not always clear how the virus first appears in humans. Usually the first person gets infected through contact with an infected animal.
Ebola is transmitted by:
Direct exposure to the blood, bodily fluids, of a dead or living infected person or animal
Injury from needles and other sharp implements contaminated by the blood of a dead or living infected person or animal
Direct exposure through broken skin or mucous membranes (e.g. in the mouth, under eyelids) to environments/items that have become contaminated with an Ebola patient’s infectious fluids such as soiled clothing, bed linen, or used needles.
Contact with bodily fluids includes unprotected sexual contact with patients up to seven weeks after they have recovered.
What is the incubation period?
The incubation period (the interval between being in contact with an infected person and developing symptoms of disease) varies between 2-21 days.
What are the signs and symptoms of EVD?
The signs and symptoms of EVD are (early symptoms **):
Joint and muscle aches**
Measles like rash
A rash, red eyes, hiccups and bleeding from body openings may be seen in some patients.
Can Ebola virus survive in the environment?
Ebola viruses can survive in liquid or dried material for a number of days (this is a greater risk in healthcare facilities than in the community unless the area has been contaminated by a person with Ebola virus disease).
Ebola virus is inactivated by:
Machine washing at higher temperatures
Ultraviolet radiation (including sunlight)
Heating for 60 minutes at 60°C or boiling for five minutes
Sodium hypochlorite (household bleach)
NB: Freezing or refrigeration will not inactivate Ebola virus.
Infection control and decontamination guidance for non-healthcare settings
What activities are not dangerous?
If you are in an affected country, it is important to bear in mind that Ebola is not transmitted by:
Casual contact in public places with people that do not appear to be sick
Swimming in a swimming pool
Mosquitoes do not transmit the Ebola virus.
How can it be prevented?
Avoid direct contact with body fluids of a person suffering from Ebola or a deceased patient by wearing gloves, goggles, and masks
Persons suspected to be suffering from Ebola should be taken to the nearest health unit immediately for medical attention. Tracing and follow up of people who may have been exposed to Ebola through close contact with patients are essential.
Persons who have died of Ebola must be handled using strong protective wear and buried immediately;
Report any suspected cases of Ebola to the nearest health unit immediately
Suspected cases should be isolated from other patients and strict barrier nursing techniques implemented.
All hospital staff should be briefed on the nature of the disease and its transmission routes. Particular emphasis should be placed on ensuring that invasive procedures such as the placing of intravenous lines and the handling of blood, secretions, catheters and suction devices are carried out under strict barrier nursing conditions. Hospital staff should have individual gowns, gloves, masks and goggles. Non-disposable protective equipment must not be reused unless they have been properly disinfected.
Infection may also spread through contact with the soiled clothing or bed linens from a patient with Ebola. Disinfection is therefore required before handling these items.
Communities affected by Ebola should make efforts to ensure that the population is well informed, both about the nature of the disease itself and about necessary outbreak containment measures, including burial of the deceased. People who have died from Ebola should be promptly and safely buried.
Contacts: As the primary mode of person-to-person transmission is contact with contaminated blood, secretions or body fluids, people who have had close physical contact with patients should be kept under strict surveillance. Their body temperature should be checked twice a day, with immediate hospitalization and strict isolation in case of the onset of fever.