Managing an ebola outbreak

Given that the virus is so highly contagious and virulent, it is essential to intervene rapidly in order to limit spread. Field volunteers and national staff need to be both trained and experienced so as to avoid becoming themselves infected. The activities that they undertake include the following:

  • confirming the diagnosis by taking blood samples from infected persons. These samples are of course themselves highly contagious and cannot be transported - they will normally only be handled by an international team of virologists brought specifically to the site of the outbreak to investigate. The diagnosis may be initially be a presumptive one, based upon the clinical picture, and control measures must never be delayed
  • active case-finding, so as to isolate infected persons in hospital
    contact tracing, which means finding and watching over any persons in close
  • contact with a patient over the previous three weeks


  • setting up of on-going epidemiological surveillance so as to track who is becoming infected and perhaps work out ways of limiting spread
  • urgent education of the general public on how to avoid contagion. Such an education campaign may use all media available, including loudspeakers, radio broadcasts and dissemination of information by teachers and community leaders
  • training all health staff on methods of isolation, "barrier nursing" and sterilisation, and disposal of contaminated waste
  • ensuring that health facilities have adequate supplies of sterile needles and syringes, so as to be certain that they are not spreading the virus.