2014 West Africa Ebola (Ebola Virus Disease) Outbreak

By Audrey Pabs-Garnon

The 2014 West Africa Ebola Epidemic is the largest in history primarily affecting 3 countries in the region – Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone.  1 in 2 people who contracted the disease in this outbreak have died.  This blog will provide information and education about the disease and its effects on children and families in two parts – General Information and a Call to Action. Today’s blog, the first of four sessions in the general information section, will focus on background information, overview, highlights and summary of the Ebola outbreak in the region.

What is Ebola?  Ebola, previously known as Ebola hemorrhagic fever, is a rare and deadly disease caused by infection with one of the Ebola virus strains. First discovered in 1976 near the Ebola River in what is now the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ebola can cause disease in humans and nonhuman primates (monkeys, gorillas, and chimpanzees).  There is currently no known cure or vaccine for the disease although a number of vaccines are currently in the human testing phase, spurred on by the current outbreak.

How do you get Ebola?   Ebola is contracted from direct contact with any of the following:

  1. Body fluids of someone sick with Ebola or someone who died from the disease. Bodily fluids include blood, vomit, pee, poop, sweat, semen, spit, etc.
  2. Objects contaminated with the virus. (needles, medical equipment, household utensils, etc.)
  3. Infected animals (by contact with blood or fluids or infected meat)

Early symptoms   Ebola can only be spread to other people after symptoms begin.  Symptoms develop within 2 to 21 days after exposure and include, fever, fatigue, headache, diarrhea, muscle pain, vomiting, stomach pain and unexplained bleeding or bruising.  With the exception of bleeding and bruises, the early symptoms of Ebola is similar to the symptoms or other far less deadly infections in the regions like the Flu or Malaria.

When can someone spread the disease to others?   Ebola only spreads when people are sick. A patient must display one of the symptoms mentioned earlier to spread the disease to others.  If an exposed person does not develop symptoms by 21 days following exposure, they will not become sick with Ebola.

Highlights and Summary   As of 11/4/14 there were 13,241 total cases of Ebola (Ebola Virus Disease EVD); 8,142 laboratory-confirmed cases & 4,950 total deaths. These numbers are based on information reported by the various Ministries of Health in conjunction with the WHO updates.

Country         Total Cases         Laboratory Confirmed Cases         Total Deaths

Guinea               1760                                   1479                                    1054

Liberia               6919                                    2514                                    2766

Sierra Leone      4862                                    4149                                    1130

Total               13241                                    8142                                     4950


A total of 531 healthcare workers have been infected, 305 of whom have died.

Country                Cases                  Deaths

Guinea                   88                        46

Liberia                   315                      157

Sierra Leone           128                      102


  • All districts in Liberia & Sierra Leone have been infected. In all 3 countries, EVD cases and deaths continue to be under-reported.
  • At the country level the weekly incidence of EVD appears to be stable in Guinea, declining in Liberia and continues to rise in Sierra Leone.
  • The UN Mission for Ebola Emergency Response (UNMEER) has been established to address the unprecedented EVD outbreak. The strategic priorities are to stop the spread of the disease; treat infected patients; ensure essential services; preserve stability & prevent the spread of EVD to currently unaffected countries. Key plan objectives include having the capacity to isolate at least 70% of patients who die from EVD by December 1, 2014 with the ultimate goal of having the capacity to isolate 100% of EVD cases and safely bury 100% of patients who die from EVD by January 1, 2015.
  • Isolating EVD patients in Ebola Treatment Centers [ETC] & Community Care Centers [CCC] is critical in preventing further transmission. Total number of ETC beds in the 3 countries has grown from 284 beds at the beginning of August to 1047 beds at the end of October. The challenge of finding sufficient numbers of foreign medical teams to operate ETC’s hinders the establishment of more beds.
  • Safe and dignified burials are an important component of the Ebola outbreak response. There are many unreported Ebola deaths and the burials are not managed safely. This leads to further transmission of the disease. Presently there are 140 trained burial teams, including 34 in Guinea, 50 in Liberia & 56 in Sierra Leone. There is a need for 528 trained burial teams in Guinea, Liberia & Sierra Leone.
  • Prompt and accurate diagnosis of cases is a critical aspect of the response to the Ebola outbreak. Between 1150 & 1170 samples are tested daily in laboratories in the 3 countries, with the maximum testing capacity for each lab ranging from 50 to 350 samples daily.
  • UNICEF is the lead agency in social mobilization during this outbreak and a joint WHO-UNICEF team has visited the 3 countries to review and assist with social mobilization plans.
  • WHO and partners are supporting these 15 countries – Benin, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Cote D’Ivoire, Democratic Republic of Congo, Gambia, Ghana, Guinea Bissau, Mali, Mauritania, Nigeria, Senegal, South Sudan, and Togo- neighboring Guinea, Liberia & Sierra Leone to help increase their level of preparedness.
  • A Consolidated Ebola Virus Disease Preparedness Checklist has been developed to assist countries ensure they are ready to cope with EVD if and when it occurs. The consolidated checklist identifies 10 key components and tasks for countries and the international community that should be completed within 30, 60 and 90 days from the date of issuing the list. This includes overall coordination, rapid response, public awareness and community engagement, infection prevention and control, case management of ETCs and safe burials, epidemiological surveillance, contact tracing, laboratory capacity, and capacity building for Points of Entry.
  • WHO, the United Nations and other partners are accelerating the deployment of international preparedness strengthening teams, to help countries build upon their existing work and planning.

[Our next blog will look at the social implications of the Ebola outbreak in West Africa.]