Disease Debrief: Ebola

Updated on May 23, 2018




NCCID Disease Debriefs provide Canadian public health practitioners and clinicians with up-to-date reviews of essential information on prominent infectious diseases for Canadian public health practice. While not a formal literature review, information is gathered from key sources including peer reviewed literature, the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC), the USA Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO).

Questions, comments and suggestions regarding this debrief are most welcome and can be sent to nccid@umanitoba.ca

What are Disease Debriefs? To find out more about how information is collected, see our page dedicated to the purpose and methods for NCCID’s Disease Debriefs.

What are important characteristics of Ebola virus disease (EVD)?


Infection with Ebola virus, one of the most virulent human pathogens.

Government of Canada: Causes of Ebola virus

Sign and Symptoms

Typically, sudden onset of fever, intense weakness, muscle pain, headache and sore throat, followed by vomiting, diarrhea, rash, impaired kidney and liver function, multiple organ failure, vascular manifestations (conjunctival injection, postural hypotension, edema), neurological signs (headache, confusion, coma) and in some cases, internal and external bleeding. Patients who present with these symptoms and signs should be assessed to determine their risk of exposure to Ebola virus.

Government of Canada-For Health Professionals: Ebola Virus Disease

Symptoms can begin 2 to 21 days after exposure

Government of Canada – Symptoms of Ebola virus disease

Laboratory diagnosis

Ebola virus can be detected in the blood of an infected person three days after symptom onset by reverse-transcription polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR)

According to WHO following diagnostic methods are used to confirm Ebola virus infection:

  • Antibody-capture enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA)
  • Antigen-capture detection tests
  • Serum neutralization test
  • Virus isolation by cell culture

WHO-Ebola virus disease-Diagnosis

Case definition

The Government of Canada and the provincial and territorial jurisdictions have case definitions for reporting purposes. In addition, in the context of the current outbreak, federally and some jurisdictions have developed guidelines for the purposes of case management and infection prevention and control.

PHAC: National Case Definition-Ebola virus disease (EVD)


Case fatality of diagnosed cases has been 30–90%. The average case fatality rate is about 50%.

WHO-Ebola virus disease-Key facts


CDC Outbreak Chronology: Ebola Virus Diseases– 2018

Since 1976 when the first case of Ebola virus was confirmed there have been 22 outbreaks. In 2017, eight cases were reported in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. As of 20 May 2018 the WHO (WHO-External Situation Report 4) reported about 51 cases in DRC with 27 deaths—a case fatality ratio of 52.9%.

During an outbreak, those at higher risk of infection are:

  • health workers;
  • family members or others in close contact with infected people;
  • mourners who have direct contact with bodies during funerary rituals.

WHO-Ebola virus disease-Transmission


Unconfirmed, but considered to be most likely fruit bats (Pteropodidae). Ebola is introduced into the human population through the close contact with the blood, secretions, organs or other bodily fluids of infected animals such as chimpanzees, gorillas, fruit bats, monkeys, forest antelope and porcupines found ill or dead in the rainforest.

WHO-Ebola virus disease-Transmission

Government of Canada-Ebola virus disease-How is Ebola spread

CDC-Ebola virus disease-History


Introduction into the human population: through close contact (handling and/or ingestion) with the blood, secretions, organs or other bodily fluids of infected animals, e.g. chimpanzees, gorillas, fruit bats, monkeys, forest antelope and porcupines found ill or dead in the rainforest. Virus on surfaces may remain infectious from hours to days.

Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Emerging and Zoonotic Infectious Diseases (NCEZID), Division of High-Consequence Pathogens and Pathology (DHCPP), Viral Special Pathogens Branch (VSPB)

Human-to-human transmission: from direct contact (through broken skin or mucous membranes) with the blood, secretions, or other bodily fluids of infected people; or from contact through broken skin or mucous membrane with contaminated environment (e.g. soiled clothing, used needles). Most of these have been associated with care of ill people in health facilities or in the home, and preparation of corpses for burial.

According to the World Health Organization, the most infectious body fluids are blood, feces, and vomit.

WHO-Ebola virus disease-Transmission

CDC-Ebola virus disease

Incubation Period:

2 to 21 days, usually about 10 days

CDC-Disease of the week-Ebola-Key Facts

Period of Communicability:

Patients become contagious once they begin to show symptoms; they are not thought to be contagious during the incubation period. The case remains communicable as long as the blood and body fluids (including seminal fluid and breastfeeding) contain the virus. This includes the post-mortem period.

General Transmission

CDC-Ebola virus disease transmission
CDC-Recommendations for Breastfeeding/Infant Feeding in the Context of Ebola
WHO-What we know about transmission of the Ebola virus among humans

Sexual Transmission

The risks of sexual transmission are not well understood or confirmed. The WHO makes several recommendations for precaution for those in contact with Ebola patients.

WHO-Ebola virus disease-Sexual transmission

WHO-Clinical care for survivors of Ebola virus disease-interim guidance

Government of Canada-Public Health Management of Cases and Contacts of Human Illness Associated with Ebola Virus Disease in the Community Setting in Canada

WHO-Interim advice on the sexual transmission of the Ebola virus disease


Education of the public with respect to reducing exposure to reservoir sources, ill people and corpses in community settings, and implementation by health care workers of infection prevention and control measures in health care settings are the most important current preventive strategies. Health workers should follow specific guidelines for infection control.

WHO-Ebola virus disease-Prevention & control

Government of Canada-Infection Prevention and Control Expert Working Group: Advice on Infection Prevention and Control Measures for Ebola Virus Disease in Healthcare Settings


According to the WHO, an experimental Ebola vaccine has been shown to be highly protective against the Ebola virus. Several trials involved more than 16,000 volunteers in Europe, Africa and the United States and subsequently the vaccine has been judged safe for use in humans based on available results.

The Ebola rVSV-ZEBOV vaccine works by replacing a gene from a harmless virus known as vesicular stomatitis virus (VSV) with a gene encoding an Ebola virus surface protein. The vaccine does not contain any live Ebola virus.

WHO-Ebola virus disease-frequently asked questions vaccine

According to the WHO (May 23, 2018) a team from the Ministry of Health, MSF and WHO will determine who is eligible to be vaccinated, depending on their level of risk and health condition. The following people will be considered for vaccination: (i) contacts and contacts of contacts, (ii) local and international health-care and front-line workers in the affected areas and (iii) health-care and front-line workers in areas at risk of expansion of the outbreak will receive an injection of the candidate vaccine in the arm. Individuals should continue to protect themselves from infection by not touching live or dead infected patients, their body fluids such as blood, vomit, saliva, urine or feces. Even the items for personal use can also transmit the virus.

Similar to smallpox eradication, a ring vaccination strategy has been devised for vaccination.

WHO-Ebola virus disease-frequently asked questions-people to be vaccinated

Adverse effects of vaccination

The vaccine can produce some side effects. People who are vaccinated may have a mild fever or cold like symptoms, headache, muscle pain, fatigue.

WHO-Ebola virus disease-frequently asked questions vaccine-adverse effects


Currently, there is no specific licensed treatment for Ebola. Patients are treated for their symptoms. Some people are able to recover without treatment. However, about 90% of Ebola patients die. The sooner the patient get treatment, the better their chances for recovery. Treatment includes:

  • Supportive blood pressure and oxygen delivery (reduce vomiting and diarrhea, fever and pain).
  • Ensuring proper fluid and care and electrolytes levels (necessary minerals for the body) by orally or intravenously.
  • Strictly isolation in an intensive care unit to prevent the disease from spreading to others.
  • A range of potential treatments including blood products, immune therapies and drug therapies are currently being evaluated.

Government of Canada-For health professionals: Ebola virus disease

CDC-Ebola virus disease-Treatment

Prognosis and when to discharge from hospital

According to the World Health Organization, individuals who no longer have signs and symptoms of Ebola virus disease can be discharged if they have two negative PCR tests on whole blood, separated by at least 48 hours.

Government of Canada-Ebola virus disease

WHO Ebola virus disease


CDC Ebola Home Page

CDC About Ebola Virus Disease-For Clinicians

European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) Ebola page

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What is happening in the 2018 EVD outbreak?

On 8 May 2018, an outbreak of Ebola virus disease (EVD) was announced by the Ministry of Health of the Democratic Republic of the Congo in Bikoro Health Zone, Equateur Province. As of May 27, 2018, a total of 54 EVD cases including 25 deaths (case fatality rate = 52.9%) have been reported from three health zones in Equateur Province. The total includes 14 confirmed, 21 probable and 10 suspected cases in Bikoro (n=29), Iboko (n=16) and Wangata (6) health zones. Bikoro health zone remains the epidemic center of the outbreak, reporting 56.9% of the total cases and 81.5% of all deaths. About 51% of the cases in Bikoro health zone were reported from Ikoko-Impenge health area – the area from where the first cases were reported. As one confirmed case was reported in Mbandaka (population of 1.2 million), there is a risk of spread to larger urban centres and neighbouring countries.

Ebola virus disease-Democratic Republic of Congo- External situation report 4

WHO-Statement on the first meeting of the IHR Emergency Committee regarding the Ebola outbreak in 2018

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What is the current risk for Canadians from EVD?

Although it is quite possible that a person could arrive in Canada during the incubation period or after the onset of symptoms, the risk for Canadians is considered very low at this time. No case has been reported in Canada.

Canadian designated Ebola virus disease hospitals (dated 2015)

The Government of Canada provides relevant information to the Canadian public and travelers. Canada has protocols and resources to detect, investigate, and manage Ebola cases. As of May 18, 2018, Ebola virus disease in DRG is at level 1 risk which means travelers should practice usual precautions, routine vaccinations, handwashing and protective measures to avoid mosquito bites

Government of Canada: Travel Health Notices

Registration for Canadians Abroad

WHO Statements

WHO-Statement on the first meeting of the IHR Emergency Committee regarding the Ebola outbreak in 2018

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What measures should be taken for a suspected EVD case or contact?

Case Management

The government of Canada provides a guidance document for public health authorities in the event a human case of EVD or a close contact of an EVD case is identified in their jurisdiction.

Government of Canada-Public Health Management of Cases and Contacts of Ebola Virus Disease in the Community Setting in Canada

CDC-Assessment of Persons Under Investigation Having Low (But not Zero) Risk of Exposure to Ebola


Patients under investigation for Ebola virus disease must be immediately reported as per jurisdictional protocols. Provinces and territories are requested to notify and provide a clinical history of the patient’s illness to the Public Health Agency of Canada Health Portfolio Operations Centre (HPOC) at 1-800-545-7661. They should also fill out the Ebola Virus Disease Care Report Form at the time of the initial report.

Government of Canada-For health professionals: Ebola virus disease

NCCID’s Notifiable Diseases Database contains a summary of the reporting requirements for each jurisdiction across Canada for all viral hemorrhagic fevers, including Ebola.


Laboratory testing for a patient under investigation for Ebola virus disease must be done only with ongoing risk assessment and corresponding biosafety procedures, for which PHAC provides interim biosafety guidelines for laboratories handling specimens from patients under investigation for Ebola virus disease. Ebola viral cultures can only be done in a Containment Level 4 laboratory. The National Microbiology Laboratory (NML) is the only such facility in Canada. If a sample requires diagnostic testing for EVD, health professionals and laboratories should liaise with their provincial public health laboratory to coordinate with the NML. The number to coordinate with the NML Operations Centre Director (OCD) is 1-866-262-8433. The NML OCD will work with the requesting provincial or territorial jurisdiction to activate the Emergency Response Assistance Plan and will connect the individual with the subject matter expert if require assistance with the shipping process, sample requirements and sample shipping conditions.

Along with laboratory service requests for Ebola or other VHFs, provinces and territories should report a patient’s clinical history of illness to the HPOC. Contact the HPOC at 1-800-545-7661. Clarification or further information may be requested from the patient’s clinician to optimize delivery of requested laboratory services.

Government of Canada-Interim Biosafety Guidelines for Laboratories Handling Specimens from Patients Under Investigation for Ebola Virus Disease

Government of Canada-For health professionals: Ebola virus disease-Specimen testing

Infection prevention and control (IPC) measures

The Government of Canada, the WHO and the CDC have issued guidelines on IPC measures to be undertaken in a health care setting, including measures for environmental cleaning and linen and waste management (see PHAC Expert Working Group guidelines below). The Government of Canada also provides guidelines on IPC measures for passenger conveyances and terminals and interim guidance for airline cabin crews. Some provincial/territorial jurisdictions have developed their own guidelines for IPC measures in the context of the current outbreak.

Government of Canada-Infection prevention and control measures for pre-hospital care and ground transport of patients with suspected or confirmed Ebola virus disease

Government of Canada-Advice on Infection Prevention and Control Measures for Ebola Virus Disease in Healthcare Settings

Government of Canada-Advice on the Management of Ebola Virus Disease-associated Waste in Canadian Healthcare settings

Government of Canada-Statement on Infection Prevention and Control Measures for Ebola Virus Disease

Government of Canada-Environmental Sanitation Practices to Control the Spread of Communicable Disease in Passenger Conveyances and Terminals

Government of Canada-Interim Guidance for Airline Cabin Crews, Cleaning Personnel and Cargo Personnel: How to Protect Yourself and Others from Ebola Virus Disease


Treatment is supportive, and is directed at maintaining renal function and electrolyte balance, and at combatting hemorrhage and shock.

Contact Identification

The Government of Canada has created guidelines for the management of close contacts of EVD cases.

A close contact is defined as an individual:

  • Including, but not limited to, a health care worker, family member, funeral worker, or volunteer, who has provided care to a confirmed or probable case or who has had other close physical contact with the case or deceased body, that may have resulted in unprotected exposure to blood or other body fluids from the case;


  • Who has had contact with surfaces or equipment contaminated with blood or body fluids of a confirmed or probable case;


  • Who has worked in a laboratory handling specimens from confirmed or probable cases and may have had unprotected exposure to these specimens through the course of their work.

The CDC and WHO recommends that contacts be followed for 21 days following exposure.

CDC-Guidance for Collection, Transport and Submission of Specimens for Ebola virus testing

Some provincial/territorial jurisdictions have developed their guidelines for contact definition and management.

Relevant Links and References

Government of Canada-For Health Professionals: Ebola virus disease

WHO-Infection Prevention and Control Resources and Publications

WHO-Ebola Surveillance in countries with no reported cases of Ebola virus disease

CDC-Infection Prevention and control for hospitalized patients under investigation (PUIs)

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