Ebola is a highly contagious viral disease with an incubation period of up to 21 days. The disease is transmitted via body fluids such as blood, sweat, saliva or tears. Those caring for sufferers are therefore susceptible to the Ebola virus, which can spread to health staff and family members.

There is no specific treatment for Ebola, which means there is no drug to kill the Ebola virus. However, people can be given pain relief, fluids to keep them comfortable, treatment for secondary infections, and can also receive visits from relatives to keep their spirits up. These measures have been shown to help patients fight the infection.

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Médecins Sans Frontières staff work through the night at an Ebola isolation unit in Guinea.

Emergency response in West Africa

The Ebola outbreak that first occurred in Guinea in March this year has claimed more than 900 lives. Médecins Sans Frontières is working to support local health authorities in the three countries, treating patients and putting measures in place to contain the epidemic.

The Ebola virus has spread from Guinea to Sierra Leone and Liberia in west Africa.
New cases of Ebola were reported in Guinea and Sierra Leone during the first week of June. In response, Médecins Sans Frontières sent an evaluation team to Kenema, Kailahun and the remote village of Koindu in Sierra Leone to prepare the area for the arrival of a permanent team.
Médecins Sans Frontières employs around 600 people in the region. Since the outbreak began, more than 40 tonnes of equipment and supplies have been sent as part of the response.

The second team brought the necessary medical and logistical supplies including protective clothing kits and medicines to protect health staff and to set up facilities where patients could be treated.

The city of Guéckédou in Guinea is home to 350,000 inhabitants.
Guéckédou is a city of 350,000 inhabitants near the borders with Liberia and Sierra Leone. © Sylvain Cherkaoui

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The Ebola virus under the microscope

The Ebola virus first appeared in 1976 in outbreaks in Sudan and Democratic Republic of Congo. The case fatality rate for Ebola can be as high as 90 per cent.