- Safety and Health Topics
Infection with the Ebola virus can be deadly: Ebola Hemorrhagic Fever (EHF) has had a fatality rate up to 90 percent in some outbreaks.1 Individuals with EHF generally have symptoms typical of viral illnesses, including fever, fatigue, muscle pain, headache, and sore throat. The illness progression includes nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and impaired organ function. In some cases, rash, internal and/or external bleeding, and death may occur.
Naturally-occurring EHF outbreaks are believed to start with contact with infected wildlife (alive or dead), and then spread from person to person through direct contact with body fluids such as, but not limited to, blood, urine, sweat, semen, breast milk, vomit, and feces. The infection can be spread when body surfaces that can easily absorb blood-borne pathogens, such as open cuts, scrapes, or mucous membranes (e.g., lining of mouth, eyes, or nose) come into direct contact with infectious blood or body fluids.
EHF is not generally spread through casual contact. The risk of infection with Ebola virus is minimal if you have not been in close contact with the body fluids of someone sick with or recently deceased from EHF. You can also get EHF by eating or butchering meat (e.g., bush meat) from an animal infected with Ebola virus.
Symptoms typically appear abruptly, within 2-21 days (8-10 days is most common) following exposure to the virus. Thus, individuals exposed while living, working, or traveling in areas experiencing an ongoing outbreak or where EHF is endemic could develop symptoms up to three weeks after exposure. However, EHF is believed to be contagious only once an individual begins to show symptoms.
While a case may not be diagnosed immediately, it is easy to identify and isolate symptomatic individuals. Only persons having close contact with someone who is sick with EHF or with their body fluids are at significant risk for exposure. This generally includes healthcare workers or family members caring for a sick individual. Airline flight crew, servicing and cargo employees; laboratory workers; mortuary and death care workers; individuals involved in border protection, customs, and quarantine operations; emergency responders; and other workers in other critical sectors may come into contact with sick individuals or their body fluids.
1 "Ebola Virus Disease," World Health Organization (WHO).