Frequently Asked Questions
Want to learn more about Ebola? The following are some frequently asked questions about the ebola virus, the current disease outbreak, and what to do if you are exposed to ebola.
This rare, infectious—and often fatal—disease was discovered in 1976 in the Democratic Republic of Congo near the Ebola River. Scientists believe that bats are the most likely carriers of the Ebola virus. Symptoms include the sudden onset of fever, fatigue, muscle pain, headache, and sore throat. This is followed by vomiting, diarrhea, rash, and in some cases, bleeding.
Stay home if you feel unwell. If you have a fever, cough and difficulty breathing, seek medical attention and call in advance. Follow the directions of your local health authority.
About half of all people infected with Ebola die, but case fatality rates have varied. Case fatality rates have varied from 25% to 90% in past outbreaks, according to the WHO.
Symptoms of Ebola can include:
- Headache and muscle and joint pain
- Weakness and fatigue
- Sore throat
- Loss of apetite
- Gastrointestinal symptoms including abdominal pain, diarrhea, and vomiting
- Unexplained hemorrhaging, bleeding or bruising
It is thought that fruit bats of the Pteropodidae family are natural Ebola virus hosts. Ebola is introduced into the human population through close contact with the blood, secretions, organs or other bodily fluids of infected animals such as fruit bats, chimpanzees, gorillas, monkeys, forest antelope or porcupines found ill or dead or in the rainforest.
Ebola then spreads through human-to-human transmission via direct contact, through broken skin or mucous membranes, with:
1. Blood or body fluids of a person who is sick with or has died from Ebola
2. Objects that have been contaminated with body fluids, like blood, feces, vomit, from a person sick with Ebola or the body of a person who died from Ebola Health-care workers have frequently been infected while treating patients with suspected or confirmed EVD. This occurs through close contact with patients when infection control precautions are not strictly practiced.
Burial ceremonies that involve direct contact with the body of the deceased can also contribute in the transmission of Ebola.
People remain infectious as long as their blood contains the virus.
Pregnant women who get acute Ebola and recover from the disease may still carry the virus in breastmilk, or in pregnancy related fluids and tissues. This poses a risk of transmission to the baby they carry, and to others. Women who become pregnant after surviving Ebola disease are not at risk of carrying the virus.
If a breastfeeding woman who is recovering from Ebola wishes to continue breastfeeding, she should be supported to do so. Her breast milk needs to be tested for Ebola before she can start.
Based on further analysis of ongoing research and consideration by the WHO Advisory Group on the Ebola Virus Disease Response, WHO recommends that male survivors of EVD practice safer sex and hygiene for 12 months from onset of symptoms or until their semen tests negative twice for Ebola virus. Contact with body fluids should be avoided and washing with soap and water is recommended. WHO does not recommend isolation of male or female convalescent patients whose blood has been tested negative for Ebola virus.
Good outbreak control relies on applying a package of interventions, including case management, surveillance and contact tracing, a good laboratory service, safe burials and social mobilisation. Community engagement is key to successfully controlling outbreaks. Raising awareness of risk factors for Ebola infection and protective measures (including vaccination) that individuals can take is an effective way to reduce human transmission.
Supportive care - rehydration with oral or intravenous fluids - and treatment of specific symptoms improves survival. A range of potential treatments including blood products, immune therapies and drug therapies are currently being evaluated.
The Ervebo vaccine has been shown to be effective in protecting people from the species Zaire ebolavirus, and is recommended by the Strategic Advisory Group of Experts on Immunization as part of a broader set of Ebola outbreak response tools. In December 2020, the vaccine was approved by the US Food and Drug Administration and prequalified by WHO for use in individuals 18 years of age and older (except for pregnant and breastfeeding women) for protection against Ebola virus disease caused by Zaïre Ebola virus.
The vaccine had been administrated to more than 350 000 people in Guinea and in the 2018-2020 Ebola virus disease outbreaks in the Democratic Republic of the Congo under “compassionate use” protocol. The vaccine has shown to safe and effective against the species Zaire ebolavirus. A global stockpile of the Ervebo vaccine has become available starting January 2021.
In May 2020, the European Medicines Agency recommended granting marketing authorization for a 2-component vaccine called Zabdeno-and-Mvabea for individuals 1 year and older.
The vaccine is delivered in 2 doses: Zabdeno is administered first and Mvabea is given approximately 8 weeks later as a second dose. This prophylactic 2-dose regimen is therefore not suitable for an outbreak response where immediate protection is necessary.