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Are you at risk from Ebola?

Ebola is one the most feared diseases of the 21st century. It is a viral haemorrhagic fever (VHF) and highly contagious. Like other VHFs, Ebola cause a raised temperature and bleeding. It affects the entire body and has a devastating impact on the way your body regulates itself. There was an outbreak of Ebola in 2014-15 which saw 28,000 cases and 11,000 deaths.

The chances of travellers who do not work in healthcare contracting Ebola are small, but it is worth exercising caution.

Where does Ebola occur?

The 2014-15 outbreak of Ebola affected three countries in West Africa: Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone. Cases have been recorded in Central Africa, too. There are no longer Foreign Office health advisories against travel to these countries.

How does Ebola spread?

The virus that causes Ebola can be contracted by touching an infected person or their bodily fluids. It can be picked up from medical equipment that has been used to care for an infected person. It is also sexually transmitted, and can be contracted from touching or eating raw or undercooked ‘bushmeat’ (the meat of wild African animals). Read more about Ebola on NHS Choices.

What are the symptoms of Ebola?

The symptoms of Ebola include:

  • raised temperature
  • joint and muscle pain
  • severe weakness
  • sore throat

Gastro-intestinal symptoms such as diarrhea and vomiting can occur, too. In the later stages, there will be internal bleeding and bleeding from the ears, eyes, nose and mouth.

If you think you or someone you are caring for has Ebola or another VHF, get medical advice immediately. Ebola is rare, but these symptoms are definitely a cause for concern. Tell your doctor about your recent travel history.

Should I be concerned about Ebola?

If you are travelling to an area where Ebola occurs, you may be at risk of exposure depending on what activities you have planned.

Healthcare or voluntary workers who care for Ebola patients could be at increased risk of exposure. Laboratory workers are also at risk. These groups should be given VHF isolation guidelines to follow by the organisation they are working for.

Talk to your travel health advisor to get information about recent outbreaks and use this information to make decisions about your itinerary. Another source of information about Ebola outbreaks is the World Health Organization’s Disease Outbreak News page for Ebola. You may also wish to check the advice provided by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.

How can I protect myself from Ebola?

There is no vaccine for Ebola.

If you are travelling in a place where there is an Ebola outbreak, you should take these steps.

  • take local advice about quarantine zones and comply with infection control instructions
  • avoid mass gatherings if you know an outbreak has occurred recently
  • avoid people who appear ill
  • take care over food and water hygiene
  • practise good hand hygiene
  • do not touch dead or sick animals

If you develop a feverish illness on your return from a region where Ebola occurs, you should seek medical advice and let the doctor know where you have been.