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.

Ebola is so infectious that patients need to be treated in isolation by staff wearing protective clothing.

In 2014, MSF admitted 7,400 people to Ebola management centres in the three main West African countries, of which 4,700 were confirmed as having Ebola.

More on Ebola

 

Crisis Info

MSF Ebola crisis info, May 2015

Since the Ebola outbreak in West Africa was officially declared on 22 March 2014 in Guinea, it has claimed more than 10,000 lives in the region.

On 24 August, Sierra Leone discharged its last Ebola patient. "We share the enthusiasm of the Sierra Leonean people that the fight against Ebola in Sierra Leone may soon be over,” says Jose Hulsenbek, MSF head of mission in Sierra Leone.

“But we still must pass 42 days with no cases for the country to be declared Ebola-free and maintain the momentum and vigilance to spot any unexpected cases now and in future.

"Last week Guinea recorded three new cases and we know well that the virus knows no borders. The Ebola crisis in west Africa will be truly over only when all the affected countries have recorded no cases for 42 days.”

An unprecedented year: MSF's response to the largest ever Ebola outbreak
MSF's Ebola response

Since the response began, 28 MSF staff members have fallen ill with Ebola, 14 of whom have recovered and 14 have died.

The vast majority of these infections were found to have occurred in the community.

Since the beginning of our Ebola response, we have sent more than 1,400 tonnes of cargo to West Africa.

Read an extensive interview with an MSF Ebola specialist about how we care for our Ebola patients.

MSF case numbers in the first year of our response

  • Admitted* 8,534 patients
  • 5,062 were confirmed as having Ebola
  • More than 2,403 patients have survived

* Admissions include all suspected, probable and confirmed cases. 

 

Ebola treatment: interactive guides

Hover over the image below for an interactive guide to an MSF Ebola treatment centre

Hover over the image below for an interactive guide to the high risk zone inside an MSF Ebola treatment centre

Hover over the image below for an interactive guide to our Ebola protective kit

 

Ebola Guide

It is estimated there had been over 1,800 cases of Ebola, with nearly 1,300 deaths, before this latest outbreak in 2014. 

Ebola history

The Ebola virus was first associated with an outbreak of 318 cases of a haemorrhagic 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.

Ebola Facts

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

There are five different strains of the Ebola virus: 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.

Risk of Ebola spreading

The risk of Ebola spreading to the UK is minimal, but to minimise 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 UgandaRepublic of Congo, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Sudan, Gabon and Guinea. In 2007, MSF entirely contained an epidemic of Ebola in Uganda.

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.

Healthcare 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.

Symptoms of Ebola

Early on, symptoms are non-specific, 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, diarrhoea, 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.

MSF UK doctor Javid Abdulmoneim reflects on his time battling Ebola in Sierra Leone in this powerful and painful TEDxAthens talk

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 whilst caring for patients,” said Henry Gray, MSF’s emergency coordinator, during an outbreak of Ebola in Uganda in 2012.Henry is also working on the current outbreak. 

“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 them 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.

Once a patient recovers from Ebola, they are immune to the strain of the virus they contracted. 

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

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

Read an extensive interview with an MSF Ebola specialist about how we care for our Ebola patients.

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Ebola outbreak: timeline

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In 2014, MSF admitted 7,400 people to Ebola management centres in the three main West African countries, of which 4,700 were confirmed as having Ebola.

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