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 21, 2014)













Sierra Leone









MSF Case Numbers


Date of info

Admissions since start of activities*






22 Sept





22 Sept







22 Sept




Bo 22 Sept 12 11 1




21 Sept




Monrovia (ELWA 3)

21 Sept









* Admissions include all suspected, probable and confirmed cases. Anyone who is admitted is lab tested which can take 1-2 days for results to come back. If they are negative, they are discharged. So the total admissions includes people who are currently waiting for lab confirmation and people who never had Ebola but had symptoms and were therefore admitted to the suspected ward.

Since the Ebola outbreak in West Africa was officially declared on 22 March in Guinea, it has claimed 2,811 lives. The outbreak is the largest ever, and is currently affecting five countries: Guinea, Liberia, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, and Senegal.

After repeated calls from MSF and others, countries like the US, UK, France, China and Cuba have started committing assets and personnel to the affected region. To this date, very little has materialised in concrete action on the ground. MSF is continuing its strong advocacy to mobilise states including a strong speech at the Security Council on the 18th September as a resolution to fight Ebola was unanimously voted.

MSF teams in West Africa 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 mobilisation.

MSF has been responding to the outbreak since March, and currently has a total of 3,058 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 24, 2014

MSF’s Ebola management center in Bo opened on September 19 and at last count had admitted 15 patients, 11 of whom were confirmed cases.

In Sierra Leone the government set a three-day house-to-house mobilization campaign aimed at containing the Ebola outbreak over the weekend. MSF has not received a marked increase in patients. Across the country there were 130 cases found, but in Kailahun MSF received 28 patients in one day.

In Kailahun, MSF continues to see a large number of patients coming from Makeni. There is a shortage of MoH ambulances meaning that up to 10 patients are traveling for half a day in cramped and deplorable conditions. As a result, some patients have been dead on arrival. 


Update: September 24, 2014

The number of people who have Ebola in Monrovia is still rising. Every day there are large numbers of people arriving at MSF's ELWA Ebola center, but not all of them can be accepted. Our team is still having to turn people away. This week a new 120-bed clinic opened up in the city, the Island clinic, which is run by the Ministry of Health and the WHO. As soon as the clinic opened it was full. This clinic takes the number of beds in the city up to 360.

Even though we can offer only basic medical care in the center, the number of survivors has now passed 140. Our youngest-ever survivor, James, three years old, was discharged on Monday. He had been cared for inside the center by his uncle, Dominic, who was also one of our survivors.

In the next few days, mass distribution of MSF's family protection and home disinfection kits should start, which will target neighborhoods which have reported large numbers of cases. The kits are not designed to allow people to provide home-based care, but will give them a chance to protect themselves should a family member become ill, and also allow people to disinfect their homes to cut the risk of transmission. The full distribution of the 50,000 kits will take between six weeks to two months.

In the north of the country, in Lofa county, MSF continues to operate a 100-bed Ebola management center in Foya. The situation changes every day and, as of September 24, MSF had around 19 patients in isolation. Almost all patients come from Lofa County, mainly from Foya, Kolahun, and Voinjama districts, with a few traveling from Zorzor district and Bong county. 

Counseling activities for staff were recently started thanks to the arrival of a mental health team. MSF is also providing counseling for patients and their relatives. We are also discussing how we can help to provide support to negative discharged patients, as well as recovered patients, who often face discrimination in the local community.

Twenty-six percent of patients in Foya are children (0-14 years old). A few recovered patients have recently volunteered to support and play with the children while they are in care, which is having a very positive impact on their mental health.


Update: September 24, 2014

Although more stable than in neighboring countries, the epidemic is still not under control in Guinea. Suspected cases were reported in new districts like Kindia, close to Conakry, and Lola, near the border of Ivory Cost. A suspected case was also notified from Beyla in Guinée forestière.

MSF faced an increase of cases in Conakry linked to a transmission chain in town, however Guéckédou remains stable with an average of 40 confirmed case in the Ebola center.

Since 10 days ago a small permanent team is based in Macenta to manage the transfers from the transit center to Guéckédou. Several confirmed community death cases were reported in and around Macenta. The epidemiological situation of the area remains complex and difficult to grasp.


Update: September 24, 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 4 in Port Harcourt. Currently there are no patients in isolation centers and the majority of the contacts completed the first 21 days follow-up, both in Lagos and Port Harcourt. The outbreak could be declared officially over by the October 20. 


Update: September 24, 2014

MSF will continue providing technical support to Senegalese health authorities, after the only patient was discharged last week. All his contacts have been controlled for 21 days without alerts.

Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC)

Update: September 24, 2014

The current outbreak in DRC’s Equateur province is unrelated to the one in West Africa. Some 50 MSF staff have been deployed to Lokolia and Boende in response to the outbreak, and teams are running two treatment centers, one with 40 beds, the other with 10 beds. So far, 35 people have been admitted at the two facilities. Eleven deaths have been reported, 19 people have been confirmed with the disease, and 5 have recovered.

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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