Ebola FAQ

Questions and Answers on Ebola

Updated November 3, 2014

What is Ebola?

Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) is a rare viral disease that can be fatal. Several countries in West Africa have recently been heavily affected by the largest EVD epidemic in history. Ebola does not occur naturally within the U.S.; currently, Ebola is only acquired in areas of Africa where the outbreak is occurring.

Symptoms include: fever, severe headache, joint and muscle aches, weakness, diarrhea, vomiting, stomach pain, lack of appetite, and abnormal bleeding. Symptoms may appear from 2–21 days after exposure to Ebola virus, though 8–10 days is most common.


How is Ebola transmitted?

Ebola is spread through direct contact with the blood or bodily fluids of an infected person who is showing symptoms of Ebola, or through exposure to objects (such as needles) that have been contaminated with infected bodily fluids. Infected individuals who do not have symptoms are not contagious. Ebola can also be transmitted through handling of infected animals such as bats or meat from infected animals (bushmeat).


Can Ebola be transmitted through the air?

No. Ebola is not a respiratory disease like the flu, so it is not transmitted through the air.


Can I get Ebola from contaminated food or water?

No. Ebola is not spread through contaminated water or food. Ebola can be transmitted through handling meat from an infected animal (e.g., bushmeat from bats).


How long can the Ebola virus survive outside of the body?

Ebola is killed with hospital-grade disinfectants (such as household bleach). Ebola on dry surfaces, such as doorknobs and counter-tops, can survive for several hours; however, virus in body fluids (such as blood) can survive up to several days at room temperature.


Can I get Ebola from a person who is infected but doesn’t have any symptoms?

No. Infected persons are not contagious until they show symptoms of EVD. In order for the virus to be transmitted, a person would have to have direct contact with the blood or other bodily fluids of an individual with EVD who is showing symptoms.


Why don’t we test everybody, just to be safe?

People who are infected with EVD, but haven’t yet shown any symptoms, don’t have enough virus in their bodies to detect by testing. In fact, the virus may not be detectable for several days even after symptoms begin. Testing people who show no symptoms is not an effective use of limited resources. Also, many common infections will cause people to have symptoms similar to the early symptoms of EVD. Testing everyone with general signs of illness would be a very ineffective use of limited resources.


So, when would a person be tested for Ebola?

The decision to test for EVD is based on medical criteria and exposure (travel history) criteria.  Individuals who do not meet both these criteria are not going to have EVD, and so testing is not necessary.


Are there any cases of individuals diagnosed with Ebola in the U.S.?

As of October 24, 2014, there have been a total of 4 cases of EVD diagnosed in the United States.The first case was a travel related case from Liberia diagnosed in Texas on Sept. 30, 2014. Two nurses that provided care for that initial patient were diagnosed with Ebola on October 12, 2014 and October 15, 2014. The fourth case was a volunteer with Doctors Without Borders who recently returned from Guinea that was diagnosed in New York City on October 23, 2014. The first case passed away on October 8, 2014.

The Hawaii State Department of Health (DOH) has determined that a patient at a Honolulu hospital, who was reported as a possible EVD case, did not meet the medical or travel history criteria for testing. The individual is no longer under evaluation for possible Ebola infection.


Do I need to be worried about catching Ebola?

People are not at risk for EVD unless they have had direct contact in the last 21 days with the blood or bodily fluids of an infected person who is showing symptoms of EVD. Currently, transmission of Ebola is only occurring in affected countries in West Africa.


Someone I know recently went to Africa, are they at risk for Ebola?

Widespread transmission of Ebola is only occurring in three countries in West Africa (Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone).   If the person has not recently returned from one of those countries, you should not be worried about Ebola.

Africa is a very large continent, and many countries are nowhere near the affected region. To put these distances in perspective, someone in Hawaii would be just as close to New Mexico as someone in Kenya would be to the nearest country affected by this current outbreak.



Is everyone coming to Hawaii from West Africa being quarantined?

The Hawaii State Department of Health (HDOH) is adapting CDC guidelines regarding the monitoring and movement of individuals with potential exposure to Ebola to conduct case-by-case risk assessments of all such identified travelers.  Any restrictions on movement or other monitoring requirements will be determined based on known medical and scientific evidence as well as sound public health practice to ensure both the individual’s and the public’s health, safety, and welfare.  Restrictions in movement may include requesting that individuals avoid mass transit, interisland travel, or mass gatherings.  Those who are felt to have sufficiently high risk to merit quarantine in their home will be asked to do so voluntarily, but if required, the department is prepared to seek enforcement of movement restrictions.


What is Hawaii doing about Ebola?

The risk of Ebola coming to Hawaii is very low.  Nonetheless, the Hawaii State Department of Health continues to work with partners in healthcare, with state, county, and federal officials, and with others in the community to make sure that all involved are informed and are prepared in the event of a possible case of EVD. DOH also participates in national conference calls and discussions regarding the Ebola outbreak and responds directly to individual questions from various groups, organizations, and persons. We have been closely monitoring our disease surveillance systems and working with partners to assure appropriate and immediate notification to DOH. We also review the guidance and information from the CDC and the World Health Organization (WHO).


Has Ebola been seen in Hawaii?  What was the news I heard about a possible case of Ebola in Hawaii?

EVD has not been seen in Hawaii.  Recently, the Hawaii State Department of Health received a report of a person with possible symptoms of Ebola infection.  After investigation, DOH determined that the person did not meet the criteria for testing for Ebola.


What is being done to prevent people with Ebola from entering Hawaii?

DOH works closely with government and private partners in the travel industry and healthcare community to make sure that we are able to recognize any potential issues with incoming travelers.

DOH is continuing surveillance for flu-like illness at the Honolulu airport, which has been in place since October 2005; all international travelers with severe illness who are reported, according to federal law, by flight crews to the CDC Quarantine Station at the destination airport are also reported to DOH.


Are Hawaii hospitals equipped to safely care for a patient with Ebola?

Absolutely.  The types of precautions that would need to be taken to protect healthcare workers, hospital staff, patients, and visitors from getting Ebola are all readily available in Hawaii hospitals.  Additionally, the high level of critical care and medical specialist support available in Hawaii is more than enough to care for an individual with Ebola.


Where can I find more information on Ebola?

More information on Ebola infection is available on our HDOH Ebola page, or on CDC’s Ebola page.


Who do i contact to request resources, report a possible illness or have other questions about Ebola?

Individuals may call  Aloha United Way’s 2-1-1 for more information on Ebola. Clinicians reporting a possible case should contact the DOH Disease Outbreak Control Division at 808-586-4586.