Ebola first appeared in 1976 in simultaneous outbreaks in Nzara, Sudan, and in Yambuku, DRC
The latter was in a village situated near the Ebola River, from which the disease takes its name
Fruit bats are considered to be the natural host of the Ebola virus
The case-fatality rate varies from 25 to 90 percent, depending on the strain

If contracted, Ebola is one of the world’s most deadly diseases. It is a highly infectious virus that can kill up to 90 percent of the people who catch it, causing terror among infected communities.

Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) has treated hundreds of people with the disease and helped to contain numerous life-threatening epidemics.  

Latest News from the West Africa Outbreak

Ebola: Latest MSF Updates

WHO: Widespread and Intense Transmission (as of September 13, 2014)













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Monrovia (ELWA 3)

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Since the Ebola outbreak in West Africa was officially declared on 22 March in Guinea, it has claimed 2,461 lives. The outbreak is the largest ever, and is now raging unabated. Five countries are currently affected: Guinea, Liberia, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, and Senegal.

Despite the World Health Organization (WHO) declaring the epidemic an “international public health emergency,” and the UN calling it a "crisis unparalleled in modern times," world leaders are failing to address the crisis and the international response still remains lethally inadequate. MSF teams on the ground are seeing critical gaps in all aspects of the response, including medical care, training of health staff, infection control, contact tracing, epidemiological surveillance, alert and referral systems, community education, and mobilization.

MSF has welcomed the ambition of a new US Ebola response plan, in which President Obama pledged on September 16 to send 3,000 troops to West Africa and set up 17 new Ebola management centers, while urging the plan to be put into action immediately. Meanwhile, in recent days the World Bank has approved a $105-million grant, Australia has pledged $7 million, and Cuba and China have offered to send doctors to the region. 

At a UN briefing on September 2, MSF called for states with biological-disaster response capacity, including civilian and military medical capability, to dispatch assets and specialist medical units to West Africa as a matter of urgency if the virus is to be prevented from spreading further.

MSF has been responding to the outbreak since March, and currently has a total of 2,239 staff working in Guinea, Liberia, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, and Senegal, treating a rapidly increasing number of patients. 

PBS NewsHour: Ebola Efforts Need More People in the Field

MSF’s West Africa Ebola response started in March and now counts activities in five countries: Guinea, Liberia, Nigeria, Senegal, and Sierra Leone. MSF currently employs 239 international and 2,000 locally hired staff in the region. The organization operates five Ebola management centers, providing a total of 502 hospital beds in isolation. Since the beginning of the outbreak MSF has admitted 2,932 patients, among whom 1,747 were confirmed cases of Ebola and 520 survived. More than 435 tonnes of supplies were shipped to the affected countries since March. As things stand the estimated budget for MSF’s activities until the end of 2014 is 40.5 million euros. 

Sierra Leone

Update: September 17, 2014

Ebola continues to spread through Sierra Leone, with an average of 25 new confirmed cases each day. Hotspots include the capital, Freetown, and Port Loko and Bombali, in the northern province. There is a severe shortage of isolation and treatment centers. MSF continues to operate a 72-bed Ebola management center in Kailahun.

In Bo, our team is finalizing the construction of a new 30-bed Ebola management center to care for the growing number of cases identified in the region and to relieve the pressure on Kailahun. When the new center opens on September 18, we will close the transit center we have been operating next to our hospital in Gondama.

The Sierra Leonean government is planning a three-day ‘lockdown’ from September 19 to 21, during which the population will be confined to their homes while government health staff make door-to-door visits to provide health prevention messages. 


Update: September 17, 2014

Our 160-bed Ebola management center in the capital, Monrovia, continues to be overwhelmed by the number of patients, with staff forced to turn people away. Meanwhile the team is working hard to expand the capacity of the center, and this week opened a new tent for confirmed patients. This tent will eventually have enough room for 45 patients, though the team will gradually build up to this capacity.

Our 400-strong health promotion team has also started distributing 50,000 home protection kits that contain, among other things, chlorine, soap, gloves, masks, and gowns, so that people who cannot find a bed in a treatment center can at least be cared for at home by their loved ones with less chance of infecting them. The kits also contain health promotion messages. The team began by distributing the kits to health workers who have caring responsibilities. The final distribution will take place on September 18 in the area surrounding MSF’s Ebola management center.

The number of admissions to our 100-bed Ebola management center in Foya, in Lofa county, is decreasing, with 28 patients currently admitted. However, the team is preparing for patient numbers to rise again, as centers in surrounding areas have all seen admissions increase in recent days. While most patients in Foya come from Lofa county, an increasing number are traveling some distance to reach the center, coming from Bong, Zorzor and even from the capital, Monrovia.

In Foya, MSF is reorganizing its outreach activities, while a mental health team is providing counseling to patients, relatives and MSF staff. A new laboratory has been up and running since September 13. 


Update: September 17, 2014

In Guinea, patient numbers have not increased in the past seven days, but the pattern of two new prefectures being affected each week has continued. Currently there are 15-25 patients admitted to our center in Conakry, and some 50 patients in Guéckédou. The transit center in Macenta is still seeing high numbers of patients, with five to 10 confirmed patients referred to Guéckédou each day.

The Guinean president has called for a mass mobilization in the war against Ebola, and TV and radio stations are simultaneously broadcasting  Ebola-themed programs (which MSF has taken part in) to get across important health messages.

The Ministry of Health’s strategy is to open transit centers in all affected regions to isolate suspected cases before transporting them to Conakry for treatment. An MSF team has carried out an exploratory mission to Forecariah to determine whether a transit center should be set up there. Meanwhile we are training Ministry of Health staff in Conakry and Guéckédou in the management of transit centers.

MSF is running a 60-bed Ebola management center in Donka hospital in Conakry, which is currently being increased to 80 beds, as well as a 110-bed management center in Guéckédou. MSF has also opened a new 30-bed transit center in Macenta, from where patients are transferred to Guéckédou.


Update: September 17, 2014

MSF is providing technical support to Nigerian health authorities in Lagos and Port Harcourt, in areas including isolation, contact tracing, training, and public education. Since the outbreak began, there have been 15 confirmed cases in Lagos and four in Port Harcourt.


Update: September 17, 2014

MSF is providing technical support to Senegalese health authorities. 

What causes Ebola?

Ebola can be caught from both humans and animals. It is transmitted through close contact with blood, secretions, or other bodily fluids.

Health care workers have frequently been infected while treating Ebola patients. This has occurred through close contact without the use of gloves, masks, or protective goggles.

In areas of Africa, infection has been documented through the handling of infected chimpanzees, gorillas, fruit bats, monkeys, forest antelope, and porcupines found dead or ill in the rainforest.

Burials where mourners have direct contact with the deceased can also transmit the virus, whereas transmission through infected semen can occur up to seven weeks after clinical recovery.

No specific treatment or vaccine is yet available for Ebola.

Symptoms of Ebola

Early on, symptoms are nonspecific, making it difficult to diagnose.

The disease is often characterised by the sudden onset of fever, feeling weak, muscle pain, headaches, and a sore throat. This is followed by vomiting, diarrhea, rash, impaired kidney and liver function, and, in some cases, internal and external bleeding.

Symptoms can appear from two to 21 days after exposure. Some patients may go on to experience rashes, red eyes, hiccups, chest pains, difficulty breathing, and swallowing.

Diagnosing Ebola

Diagnosing Ebola is difficult because the early symptoms, such as red eyes and rashes, are common.

Ebola infections can only be diagnosed definitively in the laboratory by five different tests.

Such tests are an extreme biohazard risk and should be conducted under maximum biological containment conditions. A number of human-to-human transmissions have occurred due to a lack of protective clothing. 

“Health workers are particularly susceptible to catching it so, along with treating patients, one of our main priorities is training health staff to reduce the risk of them catching the disease while caring for patients,” said Henry Gray, MSF’s emergency coordinator, during an outbreak of Ebola in Uganda in 2012.

“We have to put in place extremely rigorous safety procedures to ensure that no health workers are exposed to the virus—through contaminated material from patients or medical waste infected with Ebola.”

Treating Ebola

No specific treatment or vaccine is yet available for Ebola.

Standard treatment for Ebola is limited to supportive therapy. This consists of hydrating the patient, maintaining their oxygen status and blood pressure, and treating him or her for any complicating infections.

Despite the difficulty of diagnosing Ebola in its early stages, those who display its symptoms should be isolated and public health professionals notified. Supportive therapy can continue with proper protective clothing until samples from the patient are tested to confirm infection.

MSF contained an outbreak of Ebola in Uganda in 2012 by placing a control area around the treatment center.

An Ebola outbreak is officially considered at an end once 42 days have elapsed without any new confirmed cases.

Risk of Ebola Spreading

The risk of Ebola spreading to the US is minimal, but to minimize it even further we need more resources to bring the outbreak under control in West Africa. 

Before this outbreak, MSF has treated hundreds of people affected by Ebola in Uganda, Republic of Congo, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Sudan, Gabon, and Guinea. In 2007, MSF entirely contained an epidemic of Ebola in Uganda.

"I was collecting blood samples from patients. We did not have enough protective equipment to use [and] I developed the same symptoms,” says Kiiza Isaac, a nurse from Uganda.

On November 19, 2007, I received laboratory confirmation—I had contracted Ebola.

"MSF came to Bundibugyo and they ran a treatment center. Many patients were cared for. Thank God, I survived. After my recovery, I joined MSF."

It is estimated there have been over 1,800 cases of Ebola, with nearly 1,300 deaths.

The Ebola virus was first associated with an outbreak of 318 cases of a hemorrhagic disease in Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of Congo) in 1976. Of the 318 cases, 280 died—and died quickly. That same year, 284 people in Sudan also became infected with the virus, killing 156.

The Ebola virus is made up of five species: Bundibugyo, Ivory Coast, Reston, Sudan, and Zaire, named after their places of origin. Four of these five have caused disease in humans. While the Reston virus can infect humans, no illnesses or deaths have been reported.

MSF has treated hundreds of people affected by Ebola in UgandaRepublic of Congo, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Sudan, Gabon and Guinea. In 2007, MSF entirely contained an epidemic of Ebola in Uganda.


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