International Rescue Committee (IRC)

Tracing Ebola: How it works [INFOGRAPHIC]



As the Ebola virus sweeps through West Africa killing more than 3,000 people to date, the International Rescue Committee continues fighting the unseen enemy. Here’s a Q&A on one of IRC’s most crucial interventions in containing the outbreak: contact tracing.

“It’s [contact tracing] being done, but not at the level that it needs to be done,” says IRC epidemiologist Ruwan Ratnayake. “People need to very completely and routinely pound the pavement to find contacts every day. This is such a huge task that NGOs and governments are having trouble getting it off the ground and sustaining it.”

What is contact tracing and how can it stop the spread of Ebola?

The IRC supports efforts in Liberia and Sierra Leone to find people who have had close contact with infected individuals and track them for 21 days. Known as contact tracing, this allows health workers to quickly isolate cases of Ebola, monitor them and prevent further spread of the virus. Ongoing support for contact tracing is critical. One missed contact can extend the outbreak.

How do you know which people to track?

According to the World Health Organization, people who must be traced include those who:

  • Had direct physical contact with a suspected or confirmed case (touched blood, body fluids, clothes or bedding)
  • Had direct physical contact with a victim of Ebola at a funeral
  • Slept in the same household with a suspected or confirmed case
  • Babies who were breastfed by infected mothers should also be traced

How are cases tracked?

After a suspect or confirmed case of Ebola is reported, the contact tracing team speaks to members of the affected family and community. By asking a series of questions, the contact tracing team assesses the level of exposure the contact may have had with the infected person. For every confirmed case of Ebola, an average of 12 people are traced.

What are the difficulties in contact tracing?

In Sierra Leone and Liberia, people live in crowded households, increasing the risk of infection. Many community members, afraid of being identified, resist efforts to track them, and those who cooperate are sometimes reluctant to be followed for 21 days. As a result, people may deny symptoms. Some act violently toward contact tracers.

What happens if monitored individuals exhibit symptoms of Ebola?

If a contact shows signs of infection, an ambulance team is called to transport him or her to an Ebola ward for assessment. Suspected cases with negative lab results are removed from the contact list after 21 days.

How does the IRC support contact tracing?

The IRC provides fuel for motorbikes and vehicles to conduct contact tracing and respond to sick individuals. The IRC also serves as a link between communities and response teams, coordinating surveillance.

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