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Diagnosis

Diagnosing Ebola

Diagnosing Ebola in a person who has been infected for only a few days is difficult because the early symptoms, such as fever, are nonspecific to Ebola infection and often are seen in patients with more common diseases, such as malaria and typhoid fever.

However, if a person has the early symptoms of Ebola and has had contact with the blood or body fluids of a person sick with Ebola; contact with objects that have been contaminated with the blood or body fluids of a person sick with Ebola; or contact with infected animals, they should be isolated and public health professionals notified. Samples from the patient can then be collected and tested to confirm infection.

Ebola virus is detected in blood only after onset of symptoms, most notably fever, which accompany the rise in circulating virus within the patient's body. It may take up to three days after symptoms start for the virus to reach detectable levels. Laboratory tests used in diagnosis include:

Timeline of InfectionDiagnostic tests available
Within a few days after symptoms begin
  • Antigen-capture enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) testing
  • IgM ELISA
  • Polymerase chain reaction (PCR)
  • Virus isolation
Later in disease course or after recovery
  • IgM and IgG antibodies
Retrospectively in deceased patients
  • Immunohistochemistry testing
  • PCR
  • Virus isolation
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