What is Ebola?

The Ebola virus is a serious, usually fatal, disease for which there are no licensed treatments or vaccines. It belongs to a group of diseases known as ‘viral haemorrhagic fevers’ (VHF). ‘Haemorrhagic’ means that they can involve bleeding. Lassa fever, yellow fever and Marburg fever are other examples of VHFs.

The current outbreak of Ebola is the largest ever known. It mainly affects three countries in West Africa: Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone. In the worst affected areas authorities have implemented measures to control the spread of the virus, including quarantine, border closure and entry and exit screening. So far there have only been a few cases outside of these countries.

Who is at risk?

Anyone who has direct, unprotected contact with an infected person or their contaminated items, such as needles. Healthcare workers, laboratory workers and family members of infected people are at the highest risk.

The risk of Ebola transmission is low. Becoming infected requires direct, physical contact with the bodily fluids (vomit, faeces, urine, blood, semen, etc.) of a person who has been infected with, or died from, Ebola virus disease (EVD). Business travellers are generally considered at low risk in urban areas with good sanitation and hygiene. Travellers to remote undeveloped areas in those countries affected are at higher risk.

How is it spread?

There are two ways people can become infected with the Ebola virus, either from contact with infected animals or by coming into unprotected contact with the blood, body fluids or organs of an infected person. However simply washing hands with soap and water can destroy the virus.

When a person is infected, precautions must be taken to prevent an outbreak. Strict hygiene, sanitation and infection control procedures minimise the risk. Breast milk and semen can remain infectious for several months after recovery.

What are the symptoms of Ebola?

Symptoms develop between 2 and 21 days after exposure. An infected person will typically experience:

  • A sudden onset of fever
  • Headache
  • Joint and muscle pain and intense weakness
  • A sore throat
  • Vomiting, diarrhoea and abdominal pain
  • In some cases organ failure, internal and external bleeding

An infected person usually does not become infectious until after they have developed symptoms.

How is Ebola diagnosed and treated?

Diagnosis is made based on the symptoms and history of exposure together with specialised blood tests. There is currently no cure for Ebola virus disease. People diagnosed are placed in quarantine in intensive care, where their blood oxygen levels and blood pressure are maintained and their organs are supported. Early treatment in specialised units increases the chance of recovery.

Staying safe

When abroad:

  • Restrict travel to undeveloped remote areas of the African continent where sanitation and hygiene are poor;
  • Pay strict attention to hygiene – always – wherever you are;
  • Wash your hands frequently and thoroughly;
  • Do not touch the blood, body fluids or secretions of any person or animal
  • Only eat well cooked meat;
  • Drink only clean water from a confirmed source and avoid ice cubes;
  • Avoid bats, primates, and bush meat, and forest animals that are sick or found dead.


When in developed countries:

  • Pay strict attention to hygiene – always – wherever you are;
  • Wash your hands frequently and thoroughly – always, even in your home country
  • Drink only fresh water;
  • Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when sneezing or coughing, and dispose of tissue in the toilet. Then wash your hands;
  • Ensure door knobs, handrails, office equipment, etc are regularly wiped down.

Following this advice will also help to protect you from more prevalent contagious diseases like flu, the norovirus and the common cold.

Useful resources

International SOS Ebola: What business travellers need to know

NHS Ebola virus disease: an overview

World Health Organisation

Travel advice


Amalgamate’s Occupational Health team can provide training, information, support and advice to companies with employees travelling and working in affected areas. Please contact us directly if you require further information.