This is an understandable question, one that MSF takes very seriously.
Ebola is a dangerous disease, but it is also very hard to catch. In West Africa, the numbers are frighteningly high; this is the largest Ebola outbreak ever. But much of the spread is attributable to where it struck, in a cluster of countries that have extremely limited health care services.
The virus cannot be transmitted from one person to another until someone is displaying symptoms. Even after a patient begins showing symptoms, he or she is not very contagious. Patients become more infectious as the symptoms worsen, particularly after they develop gastrointestinal symptoms such as diarrhea and vomiting, and later if they start bleeding. Even then, infection can only result from direct contact with bodily fluids such as vomit, blood and feces.
MSF’s long-established protocols for returned field workers have been based on these and other facts drawn from prevailing medical science around Ebola. Our field workers, as detailed below, are given very strict protocols they must follow during and after their assignments. These ensure that in the event of possible infection they isolate themselves and are provided with the treatment they need, before they become contagious in any significant manner.
That is what happened in the case of Dr. Craig Spencer, our colleague now in treatment in New York City. He immediately reported the onset of relevant symptoms and was swiftly moved into isolation in a facility prepared to handle such an eventuality.
To quarantine all health workers who return from working with Ebola patients in West Africa has been deemed by medical consensus an unnecessary and outsize response to the limited threat of contagion when proper protocols are in place. What has been declared absolutely necessary, and what MSF drills into its field workers, is vigilant monitoring of one’s own health, frequent communication with our offices, and immediate reporting of symptoms that suggest Ebola.