Ebola Virus Disease: What Canadian Hospital Pharmacists Need To Know

Ebola Virus Disease: What Canadian Hospital Pharmacists Need To Know

Tasha D Ramsey , RPh, BSc(Pharm), ACPR, PharmD , Jennifer M Tung , BSc(Pharm), ACPR, PharmD , Heather Balogh , BSP , April J Chan , BSc(Pharm), ACPR, PharmD

The ongoing epidemic of Ebola virus disease (EVD) in West Africa has been the most catastrophic in history, with widespread transmission in Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone.1 As of March 2015, there had been over 25 000 probable, suspected, or confirmed cases and more than 10 000 deaths.1 Cases have also appeared in other countries, including the United States.1 In response to the epidemic, the Public Health Agency of Canada has worked to improve current response measures, which has included forming Ebola Rapid Response Teams, to be deployed to support provincial and territorial health authorities if necessary.2 Provinces have also designated specially equipped hospitals for treatment of patients with EVD. As members of the health care team, hospital pharmacists require a working knowledge of EVD and its management, given that travel and health care–related EVD transmission is possible in Canada (Table 1).

Table 1.   Informational Resources


Canadian Hospital Pharmacy Preparedness

Canadian hospital pharmacies must establish EVD procedures for the procurement and distribution of medications to maintain staff and patient safety.35 Pharmacies should ensure that institutional policies and procedures concerning patient isolation include procedures to minimize patient contact when medications are ordered.35 For example, the use of paper orders should be avoided in the rooms of patients with EVD.5

Procedures for dispensing, delivering, documenting, and disposing of medications for EVD patients in isolation are essential.3,5 Health care providers must be able to manipulate packaging and administer medications while wearing personal protective equipment (PPE).3 Disposable medication containers that can be incinerated, without staples or sharp objects, are preferred.3 Other operational considerations, such as unit-dose packaging, with delivery by automated cabinets or a pneumatic tube system in a non-isolation or clean area, and establishment of a satellite pharmacy near the isolation unit, may also be helpful.3,5 Usual procedures for documentation of medication administration may have to be adapted for EVD patients in isolation.5 Policies for documentation and disposal of controlled substance waste originating from potential or confirmed EVD patients must be established. Also, procedures for replacement of code carts and their contents in EVD isolation rooms are essential.5 Furthermore, a process is needed for crediting medications delivered for but not administered to EVD patients.5

The hospital pharmacy may be responsible for procuring investigational medications, a situation that would require coordination between the manufacturer, Health Canada, and the institutional research ethics board, in accordance with local policies for investigational drug use, as well as federal and international regulations.35 If EVD is suspected, the provincial public health authority should be notified promptly. Discussions regarding procurement of investigational medications should include the latest results of clinical trials and drug availability. Pharmacists may want to increase their understanding of available manufacturer(s), mechanism(s), and therapeutic use(s) of these agents in both individual cases and larger trials, as part of the institution’s preparation for EVD (Table 2).

Table 2.  Investigational Medications for Ebola Virus Disease (EVD)68


Pharmacy staff members have an obligation to familiarize themselves with institutional EVD policies and procedures. Departments should estimate the increased number of dispensary and clinical pharmacy staff needed per EVD case. Clinical pharmacists who will participate in direct care of patients with EVD must be identified in advance, must receive PPE training, and must have a clear understanding of their role in patient care.3

Role of Canadian Hospital Pharmacists

Hospitals with EVD patients may need additional dedicated pharmacy staff to facilitate procurement, preparation, and distribution of therapy. Although all Canadian hospital pharmacists need to have an understanding of EVD, those working in critical care, infectious diseases, and the emergency department will likely play the largest roles in clinical management of this disease.3 Investigational drug services pharmacists may also be involved in procuring and managing investigational EVD therapies, including inventory control and ensuring all regulatory requirements are met.3


As of early spring 2015, no medications had been approved for the prevention or treatment of EVD.6,7 Supportive care may allow time for the development of adequate antibody response. Administration of IV fluids, replacement of electrolytes, treatment of concurrent infections and secondary bacterial infections, nutritional support, administration of antinauseants and analgesics, and management of bleeding are essential aspects of care for those with EVD.6 As clinical trials are conducted, investigational treatments for EVD may play a larger role. Investigational medications include brincidofovir, favipiravir, TKM-Ebola, ZMapp, amiodarone, chloroquine, clomiphene, dronedarone, lamivudine, and verapamil (Table 2).6,7 Therapies based on blood products obtained from convalescing EVD patients and vaccines, including the VSV-EBOV vaccine developed by the National Microbiology Laboratory of the Public Health Agency of Canada, are also being assessed for their potential use in treating and preventing EVD.6


Given the important role of hospital pharmacists on the front lines of patient care, an understanding of EVD management and the development of EVD-specific hospital pharmacy policies and procedures are essential.


1. 2014 Ebola outbreak in West Africa–case counts. Atlanta (GA): Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; 2015 [cited 2015 Mar 31]. Available from: www.cdc.gov/vhf/ebola/outbreaks/2014-west-africa/case-counts.html

2. Canada’s response to Ebola. Ottawa (ON): Government of Canada; 2015 [cited 2015 Feb 2]. Available from: www.healthycanadians.gc.ca/diseases-conditions-maladies-affections/disease-maladie/ebola/response-reponse/index-eng.php

3. Guarascio AJ, Faust AC, Sheperd L, O’Donnell LA. Ebola virus disease: roles and considerations for pharmacists. Ann Pharmacother. 2015;49(2): 247–9.

4. Traynor K. Pharmacists’ investigational drug services aid Ebola response. Am J Health Syst Pharm. 2014;71(23):2000, 2004, 2006.
cross-ref  pubmed  

5. Pharmacy checklist: Ebola and pandemic preparedness. Bethesda (MD): American Society of Health-Systems Pharmacists; 2015 [cited 2015 Feb 2]. Available from: www.ashp.org/menu/PracticePolicy/ResourceCenters/Ebola

6. Bishop BM. Potential and emerging treatment options for Ebola virus disease. Ann Pharmacother. 2015;49(2):196–206.

7. Potential Ebola therapies and vaccines. Geneva (Switzerland): World Health Organization; 2014 [cited 2015 Feb 2]. Available from: http://apps.who.int/iris/bitstream/10665/137590/1/WHO_EVD_HIS_EMP_14.1_eng.pdf

8. Gehring G, Rohrmann K, Atenchong N, Mittler E, Becker S, Dahlmann F, et al. The clinically approved drugs amiodarone, dronedarone, and verapamil inhibit filovirus cell entry. J Antimicrob Chemother. 2014; 69(8):2123–31.
cross-ref  pubmed  

9. Chimerix focusing efforts on CMV and adenovirus pivotal trials: brincidofovir will not be considered in further clinical trials in Ebola virus disease. Durham (NC): Chimerix Inc; 2015 [cited 2015 Feb 10]. Available from: http://ir.chimerix.com/releasedetail.cfm?ReleaseID=893927

10. Clinical study to assess efficacy and safety of amiodarone in treating patients with Ebola virus disease (EVD) in Sierra Leone. EASE (EMERGENCY Amiodarone Study Against Ebola) [study registration]. Bethesda (MD): ClinicalTrials.gov; 2014 [record updated 2014 Dec 3; cited 2015 Feb 10]. Available from: https://www.clinicaltrials.gov/ct2/show/NCT02307591?term=NCT02307591&rank=1

11. WHO meeting of the Scientific and Technical Advisory Committee on Ebola experimental interventions—briefing note. Geneva (Switzerland): World Health Organization; 2014 [cited 2015 Feb 10]. Available from: www.who.int/medicines/ebola-treatment/scientific_tech_meeting/en/

Clinical Pharmacy Specialist – Infectious Diseases, Pharmacy Services, Kelowna General Hospital, Kelowna, British Columbia
Clinical Pharmacist, Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre, Toronto, Ontario
Staff Pharmacist, Regina Qu’Appelle Health Region, Regina, Saskatchewan
Pharmacist, Antimicrobial Stewardship Program, St Joseph’s Health Centre, Toronto, Ontario

Tasha Ramsey is also a Clinical Instructor with the Faculty of Pharmaceutical Sciences, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, British Columbia. ( Return to Text )

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Competing interests: None declared.

Canadian Journal of Hospital Pharmacy , VOLUME 68 , NUMBER 2 , March-April 2015

ISSN 1920-2903 (Online)
Copyright © 2019 Canadian Society of Hospital Pharmacists