FAQs about Ebola

Preguntas frecuentes sobre el ébola

General information and frequently-asked questions about the outbreak of Ebola virus disease.

1.- What is Ebola virus disease?

Ebola virus disease (EVD) is a serious disease that often leads to death. The disease affects humans and non-human primates (monkeys, gorillas and chimpanzees).

2.- What are its symptoms?

Symptoms of the disease may appear anywhere between two and 21 days after exposure to the virus. Onset of the disease may occur suddenly with a fever, headache, joint and muscle pain, weakness, diarrhoea, vomiting, stomach pain, lack of appetite and unexplained bleeding.

3.- What outbreaks of the disease are currently ongoing?

Two distinct outbreaks of Ebola virus disease are currently ongoing in Africa: the outbreak affecting various countries in West Africa; and another outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The WHO distinguishes between two categories of country affected by the outbreak in West Africa based on the intensity of transmission: those countries with widespread and intense transmission (Guinea-Conakry, Sierra Leone and Liberia); and those countries with localised transmission (Nigeria, USA and Spain).

4.- What is the mortality rate for the type of Ebola virus that has been identified in Spain?

The virus identified in Spain comes from the current outbreak in West Africa, caused by the Zaire ebolavirus species. Despite being the most prolonged with the most people affected, it is one of the outbreaks that has presented the lowest mortality rate (currently below 50%).

5.- How does the Ebola virus spread?

The Ebola virus spreads through direct contact with the blood or bodily fluids of an infected person with symptoms of the disease or with infected bodies, or through direct contact with objects that have been contaminated with infected secretions (needles, syringes, clothes, etc.).

Contact with bodily fluids includes semen, which may remain infective for weeks after recovery from the disease (the WHO recommends abstaining from sexual relations or using protection for three months after recovery from the disease).

The disease can also be contracted through direct contact with the blood or other bodily fluids of wild animals, such as monkeys, forest antelope and bats, whether alive or dead.

6.- How does the Ebola virus NOT spread?

The Ebola virus does not spread through water, air or food, although it is recommended not to consume meat from animals whose import is not authorised in the EU. Asymptomatic patients cannot transmit the infection either.

Neither is there scientific evidence to show that the Ebola virus can be spread by non-mammals, such as insects, birds, etc.

7.- How long can the virus survive outside of a host?

The virus does not persist for very long outside of a body. According to available evidence, the Ebola virus can survive in fluids or on solid surfaces for several days if conditions are favourable. The virus can be deactivated in any of the following ways:

  • Application of sodium hypochlorite (bleach) or another standard disinfectant
  • Application of ultraviolet or gamma radiation
  • Heating to a temperature of 60ºC for 30 minutes
  • Boiling for five minutes

Freezing and refrigeration do NOT deactivate the virus.

8.- When can someone who caught the virus be considered clear?

Observation of treated cases suggests that the disease becomes most virulent somewhere between 7 and 10 days from infection. The outcome becomes clear from approximately day 15 or 16. Following this period, recovery depends on the immune response of the infected individual.

People who recover from an Ebola virus infection produce antibodies that may last for at least 10 years.

It is important for people who have recovered to remember that semen may remain infective for weeks after recovery from the disease (the WHO recommends abstaining from sexual relations or using protection for three months after recovery from the disease).

9.- Can the Ebola virus lead to chronic infections in a patient?

No. The Ebola virus has no ability to produce chronic infections in a patient. The Ebola virus does not behave like the HIV virus or Hepatitis C. Once a patient recovers, no traces of the virus remain. This situation also contributes to the fact it is virtually impossible for this virus to lead to a global epidemic.

10.- What is the risk of becoming infected?

The Ebola virus is NOT highly infectious. As regards the current outbreak of Ebola virus disease in West Africa, the risk to the people of Spain is VERY LOW.

The people most at risk from infection in the current outbreak in the affected countries of West Africa are: healthcare professionals treating EVD patients; the relatives of or people who have been in close contact with Ebola patients or the body of someone who has died from Ebola during burial ceremonies; and hunters who may have come into contact with dead animals in places affected by the outbreak.

11.- Is it possible to become infected in public places?

The risk of becoming infected in public places (public transport, aeroplanes, hospitals, trains, restaurants, bathrooms, etc.) is VERY LOW or NON-EXISTENT.

The risk of contagion from being in a public place at the same time as people infected with the Ebola virus is highly unlikely and there would only be a risk if those people were bleeding, vomiting, etc. and you came into direct contact with such secretions.

12.- What are the basic measures for avoiding infection?

They basically involve maintaining basic standards of hygiene (washing your hands frequently with soap or antiseptic) and avoiding direct contact with the blood, organs or other bodily fluids of someone infected with the Ebola virus, as well as with objects that may have been contaminated by such fluids, or with infected animals or the bodies thereof from the affected areas.

13.- What is being done in the affected countries to contain the infection?

The national health authorities are implementing quarantine, treatment and support measures for those infected with the Ebola virus, and are working to identify and monitor unsafe contact. Local authorities are receiving support from international organisations to carry out this work.

At the airports of Guinea-Conakry, Liberia, Sierra Leone and Nigeria (Lagos), any possible symptom of Ebola virus disease is assessed – including a body temperature check – in all passengers leaving the area.

Furthermore, passengers are required to answer a health questionnaire. The World Health Organization and other international bodies, together with non-governmental organisations, are channelling support and increasing the aid given to affected countries in order to improve resources and abilities on the ground. Experts are also being sent to the area to help manage the situation.

14.- What measures are being taken by the Ministry of Health in Spain?

In collaboration with the Health Councils of the various regional governments, the Instituto de Salud Carlos III [Carlos III Health Institute] and scientific societies, the Spanish Ministry of Health, Social Services and Equality has implemented a protocol against the Ebola virus disease in Spain in line with the recommendations issued by international bodies aimed at guaranteeing the detection and early diagnosis of any possible cases and immediately adopting the appropriate control measures. Furthermore, this protocol has been reviewed by both national and international experts.

Together with the Foreign Health services, the Ministry of Health has drawn up an action protocol for all points of entry into Spain under which the health declarations (Aircraft General Declaration and Maritime Declaration of Health) of all aircraft and ships coming from the affected countries are checked. Additional information can be found here.

The Ministry of Health is in constant coordination with the Regional Government of Madrid to monitor the situation.

The Ministry of Health is working closely and in a coordinated fashion with other ministerial departments (Foreign Affairs and Cooperation, Public Works, Treasury, Defence and Public Administration Services). Work is being carried out in a closely coordinated fashion and the recommendations from the World Health Organization and bodies of the European Union are being followed, as are those from the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control.

Information leaflets have been produced for distribution among passengers coming from the affected areas. Furthermore, posters have been produced with information for all travellers arriving in Spain (including non-direct flights from affected countries).

The Ministry of Health has also provided instructions to airlines and cabin crews on the management of passengers who could be sick and on the disinfection of aircraft.

Additional information can be found here.

15.- What travel recommendations for the affected countries have been made by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs?

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Cooperation periodically updates its recommendations to Spanish citizens wishing to travel to the affected countries. These recommendations can be found here.

16.- Have restrictions/bans been imposed on travel or international trade?

In its declaration of the outbreak of Ebola virus disease in West Africa as a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC), the World Health Organization expressly stated that no general restriction should be imposed on travel or international trade. However, the specific recommendations from Spain can be found here.

17.- Are there any foodstuffs that pose a risk of transmitting the disease and that may enter the European Union?

Ebola virus disease is not spread by food. However, the meat of certain potentially infected animals could pose a transmission risk, especially fresh game meat (monkeys, chimpanzees, antelope and bats). In this regard, the import of meat and meat-based products from any of the countries in the affected area has been banned within the European Union.

18.- Is there any risk for people handling luggage and/or freight goods?

The risk to baggage and freight handlers is very low.

The international departure controls in place at the affected areas do not allow anyone with symptoms to board any means of international transportation.

Additional information can be found here.

19.- Is there any risk for tourists or business travellers who travel to the affected countries or areas?

The risk of contracting the disease for those Spanish residents or travellers who travel to the affected areas is also considered to be very low provided that current recommendations are followed. Although the number of people infected has risen in affected areas due to the existence of community transmission, including transmission in such urban areas as the capital cities of the affected countries (Freetown, Conakry, Monrovia and Lagos), the infection risk remains very low provided that the recommendations issued by the Ministry of Health, Social Services and Equality and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs are followed. Additional information can be found at:

  1. Infoebola Tips
  2. MAEC Tips
  3. MSSSI Tips

20.- What is the procedure if someone from the affected countries or areas were to present symptoms during the course of their return on a flight or other means of transportation?

In such a case, the Foreign Health Services of the Ministry of Health, Social Services and Equality would perform any medical assessment, quarantine and medical treatment deemed necessary. Although the risk to other passengers is very low, in such a situation and if necessary, the Foreign Health Services would recommend monitoring all contacts.

Additional information can be found here.

21.- Are health workers, volunteers and aid workers at risk?

With proper use of protection equipment, the risk of contagion for health workers and volunteers or aid workers in the affected areas is low or very low.

22.- What precautions should be taken by travellers or residents travelling to the affected countries or areas?

For those travellers or residents travelling to the affected areas, the risk of infection can be minimised by taking the following precautions:

  • Avoid contact with the blood or bodily fluids of someone or a body infected with the Ebola virus
  • Avoid contact with forest/wild animals (alive or dead) and their meat (raw or poorly cooked)
  • Avoid sexual relations with sick men or men who have recovered from Ebola virus disease in recent weeks (the WHO recommends abstaining from sexual relations or using protection for three months after recovery from the disease)
  • Avoid contact with any object (needles, clothes, etc.) that may have been contaminated with the blood or bodily fluids of someone who is sick or you suspect could be sick.

Additional information can be found here.

23.- What do I have to do when returning from an affected area or country?

Travellers returning from affected areas should know that if they present symptoms of an infectious disease (such as a temperature of 37.7ºC or higher, muscle pain, headache, sore throat, vomiting, diarrhoea or haemorrhaging) during 21 days following their return, they should call 112 to report their symptoms and their recent travel movements before visiting a healthcare centre.

Additional information can be found here.

24.- Are there any vaccines or treatments to cure Ebola virus disease?

At the moment, there is no vaccine or antiviral medicine of proven effectiveness against Ebola virus disease.

The symptoms of Ebola virus disease are treated as they appear and starting treatment early improves the chances of survival.

The following basic treatment measures can be adopted:

  • Administer intravenous fluids (IV) and maintain the fluid and electrolyte balance (body salts)
  • Maintain adequate levels of oxygen and blood pressure
  • Treat other infections that may appear

25.- What experimental treatments are being tested?

Various experimental vaccines have been tested against Ebola virus disease and their effectiveness has been shown in animals but they are yet to be proven effective in official studies in humans.

None of the experimental treatments – either pharmacological or based on plasma obtained from people who have overcome the disease – have produced conclusive results on their effectiveness and depend on the immune response of the affected patients.

Additional information can be found here.