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.

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.

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

Emergency response in West Africa

Médecins Sans Frontières' response to the Ebola epidemic in West Africa started in March 2014 and includes activities in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone.

The Ebola outbreak is the largest on record and has claimed thousands of lives. Médecins Sans Frontières teams are treating Ebola patients at isolation units throughout West Africa and are attempting to control the outbreak by tracing the transmission chain.

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.

The Ebola virus has spread from Guinea to Sierra Leone and Liberia in west Africa.
All healthcare workers must wear full protective gear before crossing into the patient area in the isolation unit. A mirror next to the entrance reminds them to check their protective gear for any holes or openings. This could mean the difference between life and death. Monrovia, Liberia. ©Morgana Wingard
The city of Guéckédou in Guinea is home to 350,000 inhabitants.
Hygienist Jerome Guillaumot is sprayed clean with a chlorine solution as he undresses in the Ebola management centre in Foya, Liberia. ©Martin Zinggl

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The Ebola virus under the microscope