Ebola and pregnancy

Ebola is a rare but very serious disease caused by a virus. Ebola can cause hemorrhage (heavy bleeding), organ failure and death. During pregnancy, Ebola can cause miscarriage with heavy bleeding in the first and second trimesters. Miscarriage is when a baby dies in the womb before 20 weeks of pregnancy. 

The 2014 Ebola epidemic mostly affected people who live in or have traveled to West Africa. An epidemic is when a large number of people have a disease at the same time. If you've traveled to an area with an Ebola outbreak or you've had close contact with a person sick with Ebola, tell your health care provider right away.

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the World Health Organization (WHO) and others are working to help keep Ebola from spreading. 

How does Ebola spread?

You can get Ebola by coming in direct contact with body fluids from a person sick with the disease. You also can get Ebola if you have direct contact with items, like needles or sheets, that have an infected person’s body fluids on them. Body fluids that may contain Ebola include:

  • Blood
  • Breast milk
  • Saliva
  • Semen or vaginal fluids (You can get Ebola from having sex with an infected person.)
  • Sweat
  • Urine or poop
  • Vomit

Ebola is not spread through the air, water or food. If a person with Ebola is diagnosed, isolated (kept away from other people) in a hospital and treated right away, there is little chance of passing the disease to others. 

A mother who has Ebola should not have close contact — including breastfeeding — with her baby. This can help keep him safe from the disease. If you’re breastfeeding, your baby may need formula instead of your breast milk. While the virus has been found in breast milk, we don't know for sure if you can pass Ebola to your baby through breast milk. Talk to your provider about the safest way to care for your baby. 

You may be more likely to get Ebola if:

  • You travel to or in an area where there’s an Ebola outbreak. You’re more likely to get Ebola if you visit a place where an outbreak has happened.
  • You have contact with someone who has Ebola. Ebola can spread easily among family and friends, especially if you care for someone with the disease. Health care providers who care for patients with Ebola must wear special gear, like face shields, gowns, gloves and goggles, to keep themselves safe. 
  • You work on research with animals like monkeys that were brought here from Africa. Researchers think that Ebola first spreads from an infected animal to a person, who can then pass the virus to other people. People in Africa sometimes get Ebola from touching infected wild animals (like monkeys, gorillas or bats) or handling (touching) or eating infected wild animal meat (also called bush meat).

How do you know if you have Ebola?

Ebola symptoms can take up to 3 weeks to appear after you first come in contact with the virus. Most people show symptoms within 1 to 2 weeks. If you have Ebola, you can’t pass the virus to another person until you have symptoms. Ebola can start with flu-like symptoms, but over time it can cause more serious health problems. 

Early signs and symptoms of Ebola include:

  • Chills
  • Fatigue (feeling very tired)
  • Fever higher than 101.5 F
  • Joint and muscle pain
  • Loss of appetite
  • Severe headache

Later signs and symptoms of Ebola include:

  • Belly pain or vomiting
  • Diarrhea or blood in stools
  • Heavy bleeding or bleeding from the eyes, ears or nose
  • Kidney or liver problems
  • Rash over the entire body that may contain blood
  • Trouble breathing

How is Ebola diagnosed?

It can be hard to diagnose Ebola because early signs and symptoms are similar to those of other health conditions, like the flu. If you've traveled to a country with an Ebola outbreak or have been in contact with someone who may have the disease, tell your health care provider right away. Your provider can check for Ebola using medical tests, like liver function tests or blood tests. You may be isolated from others until your provider gets your test results.

How is Ebola treated?

If you have Ebola, you probably need intensive care in an isolation unit. This is a part of a hospital where people with serious diseases are kept separate from other patients so they can get medical care without infecting other patients. Health care providers in isolation units wear face shields, gowns, gloves and other gear to protect themselves from infection.

Treatment for Ebola may include:

  • Getting fluids to keep you hydrated
  • Getting oxygen 
  • Blood transfusions. This is having new blood put into your body.
  • Treating other health complications, like infections 

How can you protect yourself from Ebola?

There’s no vaccine to help prevent Ebola infection, but researchers are working to develop one as well as other treatments. The best thing you can do is not to travel to places where there are Ebola outbreaks. Check the CDC website for information on outbreaks.

To protect yourself from Ebola:

  • Wash your hands often with soap and water. If you don’t have soap and water, use hand sanitizer with 60 percent alcohol in it.
  • Don’t touch body fluids (like blood, vomit and saliva) of people who are sick. 
  • Don’t touch items that may have come in contact with a sick person’s body fluids, like clothes, bedding, needles or medical equipment. 
  • Don’t touch wild animals.
  • Don’t touch the body of someone who has died from Ebola.
  • Get medical treatment right away if you have any signs or symptoms of Ebola.

What should you do if you think you've been exposed to Ebola?

If you traveled to an area with an Ebola outbreak or had close contact with a person sick with Ebola: 

  • Call your health care provider, even if you don’t have symptoms. She can check you for symptoms and work with public health officials to help keep you and those around you healthy.
  • Check for Ebola signs and symptoms for 3 weeks. Take your temperature every morning and evening. 
  • Get medical care right away if you get sick. Tell your health care provider that you may have been exposed to Ebola BEFORE you go to her office or the emergency room. This can help your provider care for you and protect other patients. 

More information

Last reviewed: October, 2014