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Ebola

This fact sheet answers frequently asked questions about Ebola.

Ebola is a severe, often fatal, illness that can infect humans. 

The basics

How is Ebola spread?

Ebola spreads to people when they touch a sick person’s body fluids such as:

  • blood
  • breast milk
  • urine
  • saliva
  • vomit
  • sweat
  • semen
  • stool

Objects and surfaces that are wet with infected body fluids, such as clothing or bed sheets, may spread Ebola. Someone with Ebola can only spread the illness to others after they begin feeling sick, not before.

Ebola is not spread through air or water. Ebola is also not usually spread through eating food, but may spread through handling or eating infected animals (bushmeat) from areas with an Ebola outbreak.

Ebola can spread between family and friends if they come in contact with the body fluids of an ill person. Ebola may spread during funerals or burial rituals if people have close contact with the body of a person who died of Ebola.

Ebola can also spread in health care settings if the hospital staff does not wear the correct protective equipment.

Symptoms

What are the symptoms of Ebola?

Symptoms usually include:

  • fever
  • headache
  • feeling weak
  • joint and muscle pain
  • nausea
  • diarrhea
  • vomiting

Some people may also have a rash, red eyes, cough, sore throat, or bleeding inside and outside of the body. Symptoms can begin 2 to 21 days after exposure to infected body fluids. Symptoms typically begin in 8 to 10 days.

How is Ebola diagnosed?

The symptoms of Ebola are similar to other more common infections in West Africa, such as malaria. People with flu-like symptoms in Boston may be sick with a number of different diseases. Call your health care provider to see if you should come in. Health care providers can use laboratory tests to find out if someone is sick with Ebola or something different.

Prevention

How can I prevent Ebola?

It is important to avoid contact with blood and other body fluids of any ill person. Clean objects and surfaces contaminated with body fluids with a bleach solution or other approved household cleaner.

Health care providers take special measures to prevent the spread of Ebola if they think someone is sick, including:

  • Wearing protective clothing (such as masks, gloves, gowns, and goggles)
  • Using infection control measures (such as cleaning surfaces and equipment)
  • Isolating people who may be sick with Ebola to keep others from getting sick

Dead bodies of Ebola victims can still spread Ebola to others. In areas with an Ebola outbreak, avoid touching dead bodies or fluids from dead bodies. Contact local health officials (such as a Ministry of Health) for assistance.

Good hand washing can also help prevent the spread of Ebola and other germs.

For help finding a health care provider in Boston, please call the Mayor’s Health Line.

Treatment

How is Ebola treated?

There is no FDA approved treatment or vaccine available for Ebola. Health care providers treat using supportive care, such as rest, fluids, and medicine to reduce a fever. New treatments are being researched.

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