Background: The 2014-2015 Ebola epidemic in West Africa was the largest ever to occur. In the early phases, little was known about public knowledge, attitudes and practices (KAP) relating to Ebola virus disease (Ebola). Data were needed to develop evidence-driven strategies to address gaps in knowledge and practice.
Methods: In August 2014, we conducted interviews with 1413 randomly selected respondents from 9 out of 14 districts in Sierra Leone using multistage cluster sampling. Where suitable, Ebola-related KAP questions were adapted from other internationally validated questionnaires related to infectious diseases.
Results: All respondents were aware of Ebola. When asked unprompted, 60% of respondents could correctly cite fever, diarrhoea and vomiting as signs/symptoms of Ebola. A majority of respondents knew that avoiding infected blood and bodily fluids (87%) and contact with an infected corpse (85%) could prevent Ebola. However, there were also widespread misconceptions such as the belief that Ebola can be prevented by washing with salt and hot water (41%). Almost everyone interviewed (95%) expressed at least one discriminatory attitude towards Ebola survivors. Unprompted, self-reported actions taken to avoid Ebola infection included handwashing with soap (66%) and avoiding physical contact with patients with suspected Ebola (40%).
Conclusion: Three months into the 2014 Ebola outbreak in Sierra Leone, our findings suggest there was high awareness of the disease but misconceptions and discriminatory attitudes toward survivors remained common. These findings directly informed the development of a national social mobilisation strategy and demonstrated the importance of KAP assessment early in an epidemic.
Keywords: KAP; Sierra Leone; attitude; ebola; knowledge; practice.