This 54:16 minute PBS documentary details the 2014 Ebola epidemic in West Africa. The video describes how it may have started, what caused it to spread through several West African countries, and how the mishandling of key epidemiological practices resulted in thousands of deaths.

This study guide presents questions that reinforce epidemiological investigation understanding. By finding out how the steps were and were not followed in a real-world epidemic—and why—you will more fully understand the key processes behind epidemiology investigative methods. You will also see how cultural factors and political considerations can affect the spread of disease and the healthcare of victims.

  1. List events or policies that contributed to the severity of the Ebola outbreak. These include not following steps to proper epidemiological investigation, cultural practices, social factors, economic reasons, political considerations, and mistakes made by government departments of health and international organizations. Describe these factors for the countries in which the outbreak occurred.  (You will be finding out about events and policies throughout the video.)
  2. How do they think this outbreak started? (December 2013)
  3.  For three months, the outbreak disease spread hundreds of miles, but was mistaken for what two diseases?
    • What does this say about the importance of the epidemiological step of correctly identifying the disease? How can incorrectly identifying the disease impact the control of an outbreak?
  4. From previous Ebola outbreaks, what three steps had been shown to be key to controlling the outbreak?
    • Where these key steps followed in the Ebola outbreak? If not, explain.
  5. At one point, the Guinea Ministry of Health ordered healthcare teams in the field to only include confirmed cases of Ebola in death counts. What would this do to the morbidity (disease occurrence) rates reported and what other effects might this have on how the outbreak was perceived and handled?
    • The Ministry of Health also stopped investigating contacts of cases that were not confirmed Ebola cases but not yet dead. What important epidemiological step is omitted by this policy and how does it affect the control and containment of the outbreak?
    • Why did the Ministry of Health make the decisions mentioned above (questions 5a and 5b)?
  6. How did traditional cultural burial practices play a major told in the spread of Ebola?
    • Who was Mendinor? How was her funeral “a catastrophe”?
  7. What eventually led to the decline in numbers of Ebola cases and containment of the outbreak? (Name two factors and explain.)
  8. How has watching this video changed your understanding of containing a dangerous infectious disease?