Ebola virus disease (Ebola or EVD) is a rare disease that causes severe symptoms and can be life-threatening. It belongs to a family of viruses that cause viral haemorrhagic fever (VHF). It has also been called Ebola haemorrhagic fever.
Fruit bats are considered to be the natural host of Ebola viruses, with outbreaks amongst other species such as chimpanzees, gorillas, monkeys and forest antelope from time to time. Ebola is introduced into the human population through close contact with the blood, organs or other bodily fluids of infected animals, alive or dead. The virus can spread from person to person through contact with bodily fluids, including blood and waste products.
There have been no confirmed cases of Ebola ever reported in Australia and there is no evidence that it is present in Australian animals.
The first outbreaks of Ebola occurred in 1976 in Sudan and Democratic Republic of Congo. There have been frequent outbreaks in Africa since the virus was first identified.
Ebola virus disease outbreaks
In mid-2014, a serious outbreak of Ebola was reported in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone in West Africa. This was considered to be an epidemic, with transmission of the disease continuing. The situation was declared a Public Health Emergency of International Concern by the World Health Organisation in August 2014. Regular updates on disease outbreaks are available from the World Health Organisation (WHO) website.
The Australian Government Department of Health has issued health advice about EVD for people on their website.
Symptoms of Ebola
People with Ebola are not known to be infectious until they develop symptoms. Symptoms caused by Ebola will usually appear within two to 21 days, and more commonly eight to 10 days, of a person being infected. They include:
- muscle and joint aches
Sometimes, the next symptoms may include:
- raised rash
- malfunction of the liver and kidneys.
Some cases present with internal and external bleeding, and may progress to multi-organ failure and death.
Risk of contracting Ebola virus
People who are living in or travelling to affected areas of Africa may be at risk of infection. The risk of infection with EVD is extremely low, unless there has been direct exposure to the blood or bodily fluids of an infected person or animal, alive or dead, including unprotected sexual contact with people who have had a diagnosis of EVD confirmed, up to three months after they have recovered.
People who are travelling in affected countries and who feel unwell should seek immediate medical attention. Those who have returned from travel in affected countries and feel unwell should seek immediate medical assistance and should tell their doctor they have been in West Africa, or mention if they know they have been in contact with someone who has had Ebola.
The risk of a case being imported to Australia from the affected countries is low, partly due to the very numbers of people who travel between Australia and the affected regions.
Diagnosis of Ebola
EVD is diagnosed by finding genetic material from the virus in a person’s blood, throat swab or urine.
Prevention of Ebola
There is currently no vaccine to prevent Ebola. Travellers to affected areas should avoid direct exposure to the blood or bodily fluids of an infected person or animal (alive or dead). Anyone travelling to affected areas to work or volunteer in a healthcare setting should seek advice, and make sure they are fully informed about infection control procedures and recommendations.
Regulations on reporting of infectious diseases
EVD is a notifiable disease and the Victorian Department of Health must be contacted immediately if a case is suspected by a health professional in Victoria.
A single case of Ebola or any of the viral haemorrhagic fevers would be considered an outbreak and requires immediate clinical and public health control to be put in place.
Further information about Ebola
Where to get help
- Your doctor
- Your hospital emergency department
- Department of Health Victoria Tel. 1300 651 160
Things to remember
- EVD is a rare disease that is life-threatening.
- There have been no confirmed cases of EVD reported in Australia. There is no evidence that it is present in Australian animals.
- Those who are travelling or have travelled in an affected country and feel unwell should seek immediate medical assistance.
- EVD is a notifiable disease. The Department of Health must be contacted immediately if a case is suspected by a health professional in Victoria.
This page has been produced in consultation with and approved by:
Department of Health and Human Services - RHP&R - Health Protection - Communicable Disease Prevention and Control Unit
Content on this website is provided for education and information purposes only. Information about a therapy, service, product or treatment does not imply endorsement and is not intended to replace advice from your doctor or other registered health professional. Content has been prepared for Victorian residents and wider Australian audiences, and was accurate at the time of publication. Readers should note that, over time, currency and completeness of the information may change. All users are urged to always seek advice from a registered health care professional for diagnosis and answers to their medical questions.