Ebola virus disease: Prevention and risks

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How to prevent Ebola virus disease

Ebola virus disease (EVD) is spread only through direct contact with the body fluids of an infected animal or person experiencing EVD symptoms. Transmission is not known to occur through casual contact (for example, sharing a seating area on public transportation or sitting in the same waiting room), or through the air. Adhering to personal protective measures whenever there is a possibility of exposure to the virus is very important in preventing EVD.

Practice good hygiene

If you are in a region where outbreaks of EVD are occurring or are known to occur, you are advised to maintain good hygiene practices, including frequent hand washing with soap and water. An alcohol-based hand sanitizer should be used when soap and water are not available.

Avoid direct, unprotected contact

In EVD-affected areas avoid direct contact with the body fluids and tissues of sick people, or those who have died from EVD or unknown illness, including their:

  • blood
  • urine
  • feces
  • vomit
  • saliva
  • sweat
  • semen
  • breast milk
  • vaginal fluid

Avoid high-risk areas and activities

In a region where outbreaks are occurring, avoid all potential places or activities that could result in exposure. This includes homes or facilities where sick people are being cared for without optimal infection control measures in place.

Also avoid high-risk activities in EVD-affected areas such as:

  • unprotected direct contact with sick people
  • participation in unsafe burial practices
  • handling or eating animals (alive, sick or dead), including bushmeat

If high-risk areas or activities cannot be avoided, the risk of exposure to the virus can be minimized by always using appropriate precautions, such as wearing masks, gloves, gowns and goggles.

Avoid unprotected sexual activity

It is important to avoid unprotected sexual activity with a sick person, even someone who may have recovered from the illness. Ebola viruses can persist for an extended period of time (months) in the semen of infected males, and transmission can occur through unprotected oral, vaginal or anal sex. It is recommended that condoms be used correctly and consistently for 12 months following infection with an Ebola virus.

Follow safe burial practices

Follow safe burial practices for people who have died of EVD or an unknown illness. Burial practices that involve direct, unprotected contact with the body of a person who died of EVD can contribute to the spread of EVD.

If participating in burial practices, always use proper personal protective equipment (masks, gowns, gloves, goggles) and maintain good personal hygiene (frequent hand washing with soap and water or alcohol-based sanitizer).

Avoid contact with wild animals

Avoid contact with both live and dead wild animals (including their meat, body fluids and feces) because they could potentially be infected with an Ebola virus. Animals known to be a source of Ebola virus, include:

  • gorillas
  • monkeys
  • chimpanzees
  • fruit bats
  • porcupines
  • forest antelope
  • pigs

No animals in Canada have been found to be naturally infected with an Ebola virus. Only infected animals pose a risk of EVD.

Vaccination

There is currently no approved vaccine to prevent EVD. However, there are investigational Ebola virus vaccines that are being used under specific circumstances for outbreak control. This vaccine is not available or recommended for travellers or other Canadians living or working in EVD-affected areas who are not directly involved in outbreak control activities. This is due to the limited availability of these investigational vaccines and the fact that personal protective measures can be used to minimize the risk of exposure.

Risk of exposure to Ebola viruses

The viruses that can cause EVD are naturally found in certain animals on the African continent. Some infected animals, like monkeys and gorillas, tend to become ill when infected while others, like fruit bats, may not. When people have direct contact with these animals, their body fluids or feces, they are at risk of getting infected.

An infected person may spread EVD to others resulting in an outbreak. The impact of an outbreak can be limited to a specific small village or can occur over a large geographic area as was seen in the West African outbreak of EVD from 2014 to 2016.

The actual risk to any one person depends on their activities in an EVD-affected area and whether they take appropriate precautions to prevent infection. These precautions include wearing gloves, gowns and other personal protective equipment. Potential sources of the virus include infected people, animals, and their body fluids or the body of a person or animal who died from EVD. Anything that may have come in contact with infected body fluids (e.g., linens, clothing, toilet, toiletries) or surfaces contaminated by these fluids, are also potential sources of the virus.

People in an EVD-affected area who are at low risk of exposure to an Ebola virus include those with protected or only casual contact during all encounters with potential sources of the virus. Those who are at high risk of exposure include those with an unprotected, close contact during any encounter with a potential source of the virus.

If you have recently returned from travel to an EVD-affected area and think you may be at risk of EVD due to an exposure please refer to health advice for travellers.

In Canada, the risk of exposure to a source of Ebola virus is extremely low. Specific occupational groups like laboratory and health care workers are at higher risk of exposure to a broad range of infectious diseases due to their work. As such, they take infection prevention and control precautions to reduce their risk of exposure.

If a case of EVD were to occur in Canada, public health authorities would investigate and notify people potentially at risk of infection due to exposure to the infected individual. They would provide specific instructions to these individuals to make sure they are properly monitored and receive any medical care that may be required.

Health professionals and humanitarian aid workers

Health professionals and humanitarian aid workers in EVD-affected areas use enhanced precautions and receive training to minimize their risk of exposure. For more information, or if you are a health professional or humanitarian aid worker, consult the section for health professionals and humanitarian aid workers for in-depth information about prevention measures in a health care or field setting.

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