There is currently much discussion in the press about a disease called Ebola which is prevalent in Africa. What is it?

It is an infectious disease caused by a virus called the Ebola virus. This virus is normally found in certain bush animals, like some kinds of bats. The virus does not kill these bats.

From time to time it also appears in other wild animals (for example monkeys) and transmission of the virus between them is often fatal. These animals can transmit the virus to humans, which leads to the disease known as Ebola.

Why is this disease concentrated in West African countries (Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Nigeria)?

The disease is concentrated in these West African countries because the virus is permanently found there in bats.

Occasional transmission to humans occurs in countries in which these bats live. It is not impossible that isolated cases of the human Ebola virus could occur in our country. People who have spent time in the affected African countries could return having contracted the virus and then fall ill.

How do people in Africa catch the virus?

The virus is transmitted through biological fluids secreted by the body of people or animals who are suffering from or who have died from the Ebola disease. Anyone who comes into contact with these fluids (e.g. saliva, urine, vomit) containing the virus can therefore transport this virus, most often on their hands, to their body (hand-mouth transport). The virus then multiplies in the body and causes the disease.

Can the virus be transmitted by the air? For example, by breathing in the air exhaled by an ill person or when this person sneezes.

There have been no cases of transmission through the air so far. Nevertheless, as a precautionary measure, those treating Ebola patients wear a filtering face mask to prevent any possibility of inhaling the virus.

When can a person transmit the virus?

It has been proven that only people displaying obvious signs of the disease can transmit the virus. These are very serious symptoms such as a very high temperature (over 38.5°C).

Aside from those suffering from the illness, the deceased also continue to carry the virus in their corpse. Handling or touching corpses also entails a risk of catching the virus. This is a significant manner in which the virus is currently transmitted in Africa due to the funerary rites common in these regions.

People who have survived an Ebola infection can still transmit the virus in the weeks following recovery, by means of unprotected sexual contact.


Can you catch this disease from being on the same plane as a person suffering from it?

The disease is only transmitted when the person is ill, and only from the bodily fluids of the ill person. If you have had no contact with these bodily fluids then there is no danger of infection.

If a person comes into contact with a person or animal suspected of being infected by the Ebola virus, should they be hospitalised immediately?

Such people should stay at home and monitor their own health. They should inform the Health Inspection Department and monitor their temperature twice a day for three days following the suspect contact. If after three weeks the disease has not manifested, contact with the virus can be ruled out.

Are there any types of people who are more susceptible to catching or transmitting the disease?

The disease can affect any person, whatever his/her race, age or sex.

Simply having black skin has no influence on susceptibility to catching the virus.


Are you at risk of catching the virus if you sit next to someone who has stayed in a country where the disease is prevalent?

The disease can only be transmitted from an ill person to another person. Transmission only occurs upon contact with the ill person or with the biological fluids of this ill person. If a person shows no signs of the illness, he/she is not infectious.

The risk of catching this disease in the countries affected in very low. The simple fact of having spent time in one of these countries does not lead to infection.

How long is the period between being infected with the virus and the first symptoms of the disease?

The period during which the virus is located inside the body and starts to multiply without causing symptoms of the disease is called the incubation period. This time varies from one viral disease to another.

For the Ebola disease, it lasts between 2 and 21 days, most commonly between 5 and 10 days. It may therefore take between 2 days and 3 weeks for a person infected with the virus to display the first symptoms of the disease.

If after three weeks following the suspect contact no sign of the disease has manifested, it can be concluded that the person has not been infected by the virus.


What happens to people infected with the Ebola virus?

The virus causes

a temperature exceeding 38.5°C,

The virus causes

  • a temperature exceeding 38.5°C,
  • headaches,
  • diarrhoea,
  • vomiting,
  • abdominal pain
  • and may cause bleeding.

In the event that someone who has had contact with an ill person exhibits these symptoms, he/she will be hospitalised in a special unit and cared for there. A little over half of those who contract the disease die from it.

Can you still travel to countries affected by the Ebola virus?

There is no formal ban on travelling to these countries. The risk of catching the Ebola virus is very low. Many countries recommend that their nationals only travel there if absolutely necessary. This is because of the increased risk of being infected with the virus in the hospitals of these countries. If someone falls ill for another reason that requires hospitalisation, the risk of being infected with this virus while in hospital in one of these countries is much increased.

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