West Africa is currently experiencing a devastating Ebola outbreak. Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone continue to report cases of Ebola and related deaths. The United States recently reported a case of Ebola in an individual who had traveled from Liberia. The case was not symptomatic, and not contagious, during travel to the United States. There has never been a case of Ebola in Canada and the risk to Canadians remains very low.
Ebola virus disease (EVD) is a severe disease that causes haemorrhagic fever in humans and animals. It is an acute illness which is often fatal if untreated. The incubation period, the time interval from infection with the virus to onset of symptoms, is 2 to 21 days. Humans are not infectious until they develop symptoms. First symptoms are the sudden onset of fever, fatigue, muscle pain, headache and sore throat. This is followed by vomiting, diarrhea, rash, symptoms of impaired kidney and liver functions, and in some cases, both internal and external bleeding (e.g. blood in stools, bleeding from the gums).
The Ebola virus does not spread easily from person to person. It is not spread through casual contact like influenza. It is spread through direct contact (through broken skin or mucous membranes) with the blood, secretions, organs or other bodily fluids of infected people, and with surfaces and materials (e.g. bedding, clothing) contaminated with these fluids.
Health care workers should always use routine precautions when caring for their patients, regardless of their presumed diagnosis. These include basic hand hygiene, respiratory hygiene, use of personal protective equipment (to block splashes or other contact with infected materials), and safe injection practices. As long as routine precautions are taken, there is low risk of contracting EVD even in a country where the disease is present.