Ebola disease: Symptoms and treatment

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What is Ebola disease

Ebola disease (formerly known as Ebola Hemorrhagic Fever) is a rare, severe and acute viral illness. The first case of Ebola disease was discovered in 1976. The disease is named after the Ebola River in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). Since then, there have been several human outbreaks, originating exclusively in Africa. It is caused by viruses from the genus Ebolavirus. These viruses can cause disease in human and non-human primates (such as monkeys, gorillas, chimpanzees) and can infect other animals (such as fruit bats, forest antelope, pigs).

The cause of Ebola disease

There are 4 ebolaviruses that can cause Ebola disease in humans:

  • Ebola virus (species Zaire ebolavirus)
  • Sudan virus (species Sudan ebolavirus)
  • Bundibugyo virus (species Bundibugyo ebolavirus)
  • Taï Forest virus (species Taï Forest ebolavirus)

Ebola virus has caused recurrent outbreaks in several Central African countries and a large outbreak in West Africa from 2014 to 2016. Sudan virus has caused 7 small outbreaks in Uganda and Sudan from 1976 to 2021. Bundibugyo virus has caused 2 outbreaks (DRC 2012 and Uganda 2007) and Taï Forest virus has only caused disease in one person in Côte d’Ivoire, in 1994.

Symptoms of Ebola disease

Symptoms of Ebola disease begin 2 to 21 days after exposure, can start suddenly, and include:

  • fever
  • headache
  • feeling tired
  • muscle pain and weakness
  • sore throat

Followed by:

  • rash
  • nausea and vomiting
  • diarrhea
  • hemorrhaging (bleeding)

What to do if you become ill

Before visiting a doctor or a hospital, immediately call your public health authority if you have or if anyone in your household has:

  • any symptoms of Ebola disease


  • travelled to an Ebola disease affected area in the last 21 days

Describe your symptoms over the phone, tell them where you have been travelling or living and mention any possible exposure risks.

The public health authority will make appropriate arrangements for your medical assessment.

Follow the instructions provided to you by your public health authority and:

  • immediately separate yourself from those around you and do not have physical contact with people, household pets or other animals
  • wash your hands frequently, especially after vomiting or using the toilet
  • ensure that others do not come into contact with your body fluids, including:
    • blood
    • urine
    • feces
    • vomit
    • saliva
    • sweat
    • semen
    • breast milk
  • ensure that others do not come into contact with anything that may have come in contact with your body fluids, such as:
    • toilet
    • linens
    • clothing
    • toiletries
  • other members of your household should not handle your waste or perform any cleaning and disinfecting activities in your home
    • your public health authority will give you instructions on managing contaminated waste and properly cleaning and decontaminating your home

Learn more about:

How Ebola disease is diagnosed

Ebola disease is confirmed through laboratory testing. Your doctor may suspect you have Ebola disease based on your symptoms and travel history.

Laboratory testing is necessary to diagnose Ebola disease because its symptoms can be similar to those of other infectious diseases that may be present in the same areas, such as malaria or dengue.

How Ebola disease is treated

There is currently no approved treatment specifically for Ebola disease in Canada. Patients with Ebola disease can be given oxygen, intravenous fluids and other drugs to help manage their symptoms. The sooner patients seek help and are diagnosed, the better their chances of survival.

Without medical care, up to 90% of Ebola disease patients die.

In Canada, a person with Ebola disease would be treated in a hospital with the highest level of infection prevention and control measures in place and by highly trained and specialized staff. In-hospital treatment would be necessary for the best standard of care, and to protect others from potential exposure to the virus.

Use of investigational drugs in outbreak situation

The World Health Organization has developed an ethical framework to allow for the use of investigational drugs in outbreak situations. Under the framework, outbreak responders use these medications to provide treatment on compassionate grounds, rather than to evaluate the effectiveness of the drugs. Ebola disease patients are also volunteering to participate in clinical trials to test the effectiveness of some new, investigational drugs. The results of clinical trials will inform future licensing and recommendations for use of these products.

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