Is the Ebola Virus Disease Contagious?

Reviewed on 12/8/2020

What Is Ebola Virus Disease?

Ebola, a deadly viral infection, is not contagious through the air, but is transmissible through contact with an infected person, animal, bodily fluids, or surfaces. Sexual transmission and transmission from mother to infant are also possible.
Ebola, a deadly viral infection, is not contagious through the air, but is transmissible through contact with an infected person, animal, bodily fluids, or surfaces. Sexual transmission and transmission from mother to infant are also possible.

Ebola is a serious viral infection that affects humans and other primates and frequently leads to death. The average fatality rate of Ebola virus disease is about 50%.

Ebola outbreaks have occurred in Central Africa, the Sudan, and West Africa. The biggest outbreak happened in the West African countries of Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone from 2014 to 2016. There have also been multiple outbreaks of Ebola in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

What Are Symptoms of Ebola Virus Disease?

Early symptoms of Ebola virus disease can resemble flu symptoms and may include:

A few days after the first symptoms start, other symptoms may occur, such as:

After a person has recovered from Ebola, health problems may continue for months to years, may be severe, and can include: 


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What Causes Ebola Virus Disease?

The Ebola virus is transmitted to people from wild animals (such as fruit bats, porcupines, and non-human primates). People then spread the virus through person-to-person direct contact with blood, organs, and other bodily fluids (saliva, mucus, vomit, urine, and diarrhea) from infected people. The virus can also be transmitted via surfaces and personal objects such as bedding or clothing that are contaminated with the fluids.

Is the Ebola Virus Disease Contagious?

The incubation period from infection with the virus to the start of symptoms, ranges from 2 to 21 days. Once a person develops symptoms of Ebola virus disease, they are contagious and can spread the illness. 

Ebola can be transmitted by: 

  • Direct contact with a person infected with Ebola: touching bodily fluids from an infected person, living or dead, then touching your eyes, nose, or mouth, or an open wound
  • Direct contact with objects or surfaces contaminated with the virus
  • Direct contact with the blood or body fluids of an animal that has Ebola
  • Eating undercooked meat from an infected animal
  • Having oral, anal, or vaginal sex with a person who had Ebola
    • Ebola may survive in semen and vaginal fluids for an extended time
  • A mother who survived Ebola may be able to pass it on to her baby through breastfeeding

How Is Ebola Virus Disease Diagnosed?

Patients who have been identified as being at risk for Ebola exposure should be isolated, medical staff should take precautions with personal protective equipment (PPE), and local and state health departments are notified. 

Patients who have no symptoms of Ebola virus disease but who have had an exposure to Ebola virus should be monitored for 21 days after the most recent known exposure and they should immediately report any symptoms to the doctor. 

Blood tests are performed which can detect Ebola within three days after the onset of symptoms:

  • Antibody-capture enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) 
  • Antigen-capture detection tests
  • Serum neutralization test
  • Reverse transcriptase polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) assay

Other tests used to diagnose Ebola virus disease include: 

  • Electron microscopy
  • Virus isolation by cell culture

Patients who have confirmed Ebola virus disease are transferred to specialized Ebola treatment centers.

What Is the Treatment for Ebola Virus?

Ebola is usually treated in the hospital, often in the intensive care unit (ICU) in specialized Ebola treatment centers.

There is no cure for Ebola virus disease, and no proven treatment. Treatment is aimed at supporting the body to help it fight the infection, and to make sure patients are as comfortable as possible. 

Treatment may include: 

There are also some experimental treatments that may be administered.

How Do You Prevent Ebola Virus Disease?

Ebola virus disease may be prevented by: 

  • Get a vaccine to prevent Ebola 
    • The vaccine is only recommended for certain people who have been exposed to Ebola or are at risk of being exposed
  • Avoid anyone who has been diagnosed with Ebola or anyone who has had contact with someone who had Ebola
  • Avoid oral, anal, and vaginal sex with anyone who had Ebola virus disease in the past, because the virus can survive an extended time in semen and vaginal fluids
    • If you do have sex with someone who had Ebola, use a condom
  • If you must be in contact with a person infected with Ebola, consult your doctor and local health officials to learn the best way to protect yourself
    • Wash hands frequently with soap and water for at least 20 seconds
    • Wear gloves, a mask, a gown, and other necessary protective gear
    • Learn how to use protective gear properly
  • If you are in an area where Ebola is present, avoid wild animals such as bats, monkeys, and non-human primates (such as chimpanzees or gorillas) that can spread the virus to people. Also avoid blood, fluids, or raw meat from these animals.

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Reviewed on 12/8/2020