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Ebola Outbreak

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.

Jump to video | Jump to Interactive guide | Jump to accountability report on MSF’s response

More on Ebola


Crisis info

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

The outbreak is the largest ever, and is currently affecting three countries in West Africa: Guinea and Sierra Leone. Liberia has been declared Ebola free. Outbreaks in Mali, Nigeria and Senegal have been declared over. A separate outbreak in Democratic Republic of Congo has also ended.

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.

Accountability report on MSF’s response to the largest ever Ebola outbreak

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.


Interactive guides

Hover over the image below for an interactive guide to Ebola.

Ebola Treatment Centre (ETC)

An Ebola high risk zone

Ebola protective kit


Ebola: Frequently Asked Questions

1. What is Ebola?

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.

2. How probable is death from Ebola?


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.

3. When was Ebola first seen?

Ebola first appeared in 1976 in simultaneous outbreaks in Nzara, Sudan, and in Yambuku, Democratic Republic of Congo. The latter was in a village situated near the Ebola River, from which the disease takes its name.


4. How is Ebola transmitted?

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.

Ebola can be caught from both humans and animals. It is not an air-borne disease. Human to human transmission occurs through close contact with blood, secretions, or other bodily fluids of an Ebola-infected person.

Direct contact with dead bodies, such as at funerals, is one of the main ways the disease is transmitted. Funerals are a significant practice in the communities affected by this outbreak and involve people washing and touching the body, expressing their love for the deceased.

In the last hours before death, the virus becomes extremely virulent and therefore the risk of transmission from the dead body is much higher. For these reasons, ensuring safe burials is a crucial part of managing the outbreak.

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



5. What are the symptoms?

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  can be  followed by vomiting, diarrhoea, rash, impaired kidney and liver function and, in some cases, haemorrhagic symptoms. This includes nosebleeds, bloody vomit, bloody diarrhoea, internal bleeding and conjunctivitis.

However, these haemorrhagic symptoms are seen in less than 50 percent of cases.

6. How long after exposure do the symptoms occur?

Two to 21 days after exposure.


7. How is Ebola diagnosed?

Diagnosing Ebola in an individual who has been infected for only a few days is difficult, because the early symptoms, such as red eyes, muscle pain and onset of fever are nonspecific to Ebola infection and are seen often in patients with more commonly occurring diseases.

However, if a person has the early symptoms of Ebola and there is reason to believe that it should be considered, the patient should be isolated and public health professionals notified. Samples from the patient can then be collected and tested to confirm infection.

8. How is Ebola treated?

There is no specific treatment or vaccine available that has proven efficacy in humans and is registered for use in patients. Experimental drugs and vaccines are now being considered for use in the frame of accelerated clinical trials. 

Standard treatment for Ebola is limited to supportive therapy. This consists of hydrating the patient, maintaining their oxygen status and blood pressure, providing high quality nutrition and treating them.

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


Ebola outbreak: timeline

Fullscreen timeline

Useful links


Dr. Gabriel Fitzpatrick's published medical research paper and media interviews on Ebola

22/06/15 Read DR Gabriel Fitzpatrick 's pioneering research into Ebola viral load's- published by Oxford Journal Of Infectious Diseases

The contribution of Ebola viral load at admission and other patient characteristics to mortality in a Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) Ebola Case Management Centre (CMC), Kailahun, Sierra Leone, June –October, 2014

20/09/14: Just back from Sierra Leone, Dr. Gabriel Fitzpatrick spoke to Marian Finucane on RTE Radio 1.

04/09/2014: Dr. Gabriel Fitzpatrick, gave an update on Ebola Outbreak in Sierra Leone on RTE Radio 1 Morning Ireland.


29/08/14: Dr. Gabriel Fitzpatrick interviewed in National Geographic

20/08/14: Read 'Ebola crisis: a doctor's view from Sierra Leone' on BBC.

Dr. Gabriel Fitzpatrick spoke to BBC Radio 5 Live.


14/08/14: Dr. Gabriel Fitzpatrick gives an update to the Sean O'Rourke programme on RTE Radio 1.


06/08/14: Dr. Gabriel Fitzpatrick speaks to RTE News at One from the epicentre of the Ebola outbreak.


30/07/14: Dr. Gabriel Fitzpatrick is en route to Sierra Leone.  Listen to his interview on the Sean O'Rourke programme on RTE Radio 1.