For health professionals: Ebola virus disease

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What health professionals need to know about Ebola

Health professionals in Canada are advised to be vigilant in the recognition, reporting and prompt investigation of patients with symptoms of:

  • Ebola
  • similar diseases that can cause viral hemorrhagic fevers (VHFs)

Consult the national case definition for further information on symptoms, risk factors and testing.

Person-to-person transmission of Ebola is primarily associated with direct contact with blood and body fluids. Health care workers caring for patients with suspected or confirmed Ebola should apply strict infection control precautions.

Spectrum of illness

Clinical symptoms of Ebola include severe acute viral illness consisting of sudden onset of:

  • fever
  • malaise
  • myalgia
  • vomiting
  • pharyngitis
  • severe headache
  • conjunctival injection
  • diarrhea that can be bloody
  • impaired kidney and liver function

It is often accompanied by a maculopapular or petechial rash that may progress to purpura. In about 50% of patients, bleeding occurs from:

  • the gums
  • the nose
  • injection sites
  • the gastrointestinal tract

Dehydration and significant wasting occur as the disease progresses.

In severe cases, the hemorrhagic diathesis may be accompanied by:

  • leucopenia
  • thrombocytopenia
  • shock with multi-organ dysfunction
  • hepatic, renal and central nervous system involvement


Patients under investigation for Ebola should be reported immediately to local public health authorities. This is a requirement as per jurisdictional protocols in the respective Canadian province or territory.

A patient's clinical history of illness should be reported to the Public Health Agency of Canada Health Portfolio Operations Centre (HPOC). Provinces and territories can contact HPOC at 1-800-545-7661. They should also fill out the Ebola Virus Disease Case Report Form at the time of the initial report.

Specimen testing

Laboratories receiving specimens from patients under Ebola investigation should know that mishandled specimens are a serious risk to laboratory personnel. Before testing occurs, consult the Interim Biosafety Guidelines for Laboratories Handling Specimens from Patients Under Investigation for Ebola Virus Disease.

The decision for specimen collection and testing should be predicated on:

  • the clinical status of the patient
  • an on-going risk assessment

Virus cultures should not be attempted outside of the biosafety level 4 containment laboratories at the National Microbiology Laboratory (NML).

For diagnostic or confirmatory services for Ebola, liaise with the provincial public health laboratory of your jurisdiction. You should coordinate with the NML Operations Centre Director (OCD) at 1-866-262-8433. This number is staffed at all times.

The NML OCD will:

  • work with the requesting provincial or territorial jurisdiction to activate the Emergency Response Assistance Plan
  • connect you with the appropriate subject matter expert if you require assistance with:
    • the shipping process
    • sample requirements
    • sample shipping conditions

Alongside 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.


There is currently no licensed treatment or vaccine for Ebola.

Treatment is supportive and directed at maintaining:

  • blood pressure
  • electrolyte balance
  • organ systems function

Consult the Ebola Clinical Care Guidelines: A Guide for Clinicians in Canada for more information.

For more information


Infection prevention and control

Laboratory biosafety

Public health management

Related websites

Articles of interest

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