What is Ebola?
Ebola (officially referred to as Ebola virus disease) is a serious, often fatal, disease.
It was first identified in Africa in the mid-1970s in the area around the Ebola River. It is thought to have originated in forest animals; the likely transmission route to humans is through butchering or handling dead animals contaminated with the virus.
There are currently no licensed treatments or vaccines.
What are the symptoms?
A person infected with Ebola virus will typically develop a fever of over 38°C, headache, vomiting, diarrhoea, joint and muscle pain, intense muscle weakness and bleeding inside and outside of the body.
Are my employees at risk?
The likelihood of UK-based employees catching Ebola virus disease is considered very low unless they have travelled to a known infected area and had direct contact with a person with Ebola-like symptoms, or contaminated objects.
Known infected areas are currently Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone.
Ebola spreads through direct contact with an infected person through blood or bodily fluids, including vomit, faeces, urine, sweat, and saliva. As a result, employees, such as those who have worked in the healthcare, sanitation and emergency response roles while in a known infected area tend to be at greater risk for exposure.
There is still an element of risk associated with travelling to an infected area, even if an employee has not undertaken any of the above mentioned roles. Please see the following sections for more information on how to minimise such risks.
What advice should I give my employees who are planning to travel to West Africa?
The Foreign Office is currently advising against all travel to Guinea, except for those involved in the direct response to the Ebola outbreak.
Although the chances of being infected while travelling to countries other than Guinea remain low, there are measures you can take to prevent catching Ebola. You should follow the health advice issued by the National Travel Health Network and Centre to:
- Avoid contact with symptomatic patients and their bodily fluids.
- Avoid contact with corpses and/or bodily fluids from deceased patients.
- Avoid close contact with live or dead wild animals.
- Avoid consumption of “bush meat”.
- Practice safe sex.
- Follow strict hand washing routines.
What should I do about my employees who have travelled to West Africa?
Understanding the Ebola virus and educating managers and employees about it can help calm potential fears of possible infection.
Remember that people can become infected with the Ebola virus only if they come into contact with the blood or body fluids of an infected person.
Ebola virus is generally not spread through routine social or business contact, such as shaking hands. Additionally, it does not infect the respiratory tract, so it is not transmitted by coughs and sneezes.
Employees who have travelled to West Africa should be allowed to continue working as normal when they return to the UK.
If you have employees who’ve been to Guinea, Liberia or Sierra Leone in the last 21 days, they should be reminded to be vigilant for symptoms. If they become unwell with symptoms such as fever, chills, muscle aches, vomiting, diarrhoea or sore throat they should stay at home and dial NHS 111 or 999 and explain you have recently been to West Africa.
It is important to remember that there are many other illnesses with similar symptoms – such as viral gastroenteritis or norovirus. Nevertheless, it is important that such symptoms are taken seriously and acted upon promptly.