Ebola (EVD) is a viral disease that can cause severe bleeding, kidney and liver failure, and in many cases, death. There is currently no ebola in Aotearoa New Zealand. The main risk of getting ebola is from travelling to countries with an outbreak or after one.

How ebola spreads

People with ebola are not infectious before symptoms appear.

Although ebola causes severe illness it is not easy to catch — it is not spread through the air and is not as infectious as the flu or measles. For example, you cannot catch ebola by sitting next to an infected person on a plane.

To get ebola you need to have contact with body fluids of someone with ebola through your broken skin or your mucous membranes, such as your mouth or eyes.

People are infected when they have direct contact with a person's:

  • broken skin
  • mouth and nose
  • blood
  • vomit
  • poo (faeces)
  • bodily fluids (saliva or urine)
  • semen.

Ebola can also be spread by:

  • handling infected animals — chimpanzees, gorillas, monkeys or fruit bats
  • contact with blood or other body fluids and organs of infected animals
  • eating infected ‘bush meat’ — the meat of African wild animals.
There is currently no ebola in Aotearoa New Zealand. The main risk of getting ebola is from travelling to countries with an outbreak or after one.

Symptoms of ebola

Ebola symptoms can appear between 2 and 21 days after exposure to the virus — usually between 8 and 10 days after.

Early signs and symptoms include:

  • fever
  • severe headache
  • joint and muscle aches
  • chills
  • weakness.

As the disease progresses signs and symptoms become more severe and may include:

  • nausea and vomiting
  • runny poos (diarrhoea) that may be bloody
  • rash
  • chest pain
  • a cough
  • stomach pain
  • severe weight loss
  • liver failure, kidney failure, or both
  • internal bleeding
  • bleeding, usually from the eyes, and bruising — people near death may bleed from other orifices, such as ears, nose and rectum.

Between 50 and 90% of people with ebola will die of the disease. People with ebola tend to die from dehydration and multiple organ failure.

Diagnosing ebola

Diagnosing ebola disease shortly after infection can be difficult as the symptoms can be similar to many more common illnesses.

Ebola can be detected in blood after symptoms start. It may take up to 3 days after symptoms start.

If you think you have ebola, your healthcare provider will check your symptoms and if it is possible you have been exposed to it, for example, if you have travelled recently. They will have blood samples taken, and sent to a laboratory for testing to confirm if you have the virus.

Staying home

If you have ebola or have been in contact with someone who has it, public health services will contact you to tell you what you need to do. They will support you with advice on how to keep yourself and your whānau safe during your illness.

You may have to isolate to avoid giving it to others.

Call Healthline if you do not hear from them: 0800 611 116

Treating ebola

Ebola is serious — there is currently no treatment or medicine for it.

Treatment of a person with ebola includes supportive cares to manage symptoms.

Preventing ebola

Currently, there is no approved vaccine available to prevent ebola.

The main form of prevention is avoiding exposure to ebola. People should be aware of the risk of travelling to countries that have had outbreaks.

There have been occasional outbreaks in Africa for decades. Even after an outbreak ends, there can still be new people who get ebola for an unknown period of time.

Advice if you are travelling to a previously affected country

If you are visiting somewhere that has ebola or has had an outbreak in the past, make sure you avoid:

  • visiting households or healthcare settings that have been affected by an ebola outbreak or case
  • direct contact with blood and other body fluids of people with ebola, recently recovered from ebola, or infected with unknown illnesses
  • direct contact with bodies of people who died of ebola or unknown illnesses
  • unprotected sex with an infected person or a person recovering from ebola
  • contact with any objects, such as needles, that have been contaminated with blood or body fluids
  • close contact with or handling of wild animals
  • live or dead animals, as both can spread the virus — animals such as chimpanzees, gorillas, monkeys and fruit bats may be carriers
  • handling raw or undercooked wild meat.

Maintain strict standards of hygiene. Healthcare workers should practice strict infection control measures and use personal protective equipment, like gowns, masks, goggles and gloves.

The Safe Travel website has more advice for travellers.

Safe Travel (external link)