The outbreak of Ebola virus disease in west Africa is unprecedented in many ways, including the high proportion of doctors, nurses, and other health care workers who have been infected.
To date, more than 240 health care workers have developed the disease in Guinea, Liberia, Nigeria, and Sierra Leone, and more than 120 have died.
Ebola has taken the lives of prominent doctors in Sierra Leone and Liberia, depriving these countries not only of experienced and dedicated medical care but also of inspiring national heroes.
Several factors help explain the high proportion of infected medical staff. These factors include shortages of personal protective equipment or its improper use, far too few medical staff for such a large outbreak, and the compassion that causes medical staff to work in isolation wards far beyond the number of hours recommended as safe.
In the past, some Ebola outbreaks became visible only after transmission was amplified in a health care setting and doctors and nurses fell ill. However, once the Ebola virus was identified and proper protective measures were put in place, cases among medical staff dropped dramatically.