Contact tracing performance during the Ebola epidemic in Liberia, 2014-2015

PLoS Negl Trop Dis. 2018 Sep 12;12(9):e0006762. doi: 10.1371/journal.pntd.0006762. eCollection 2018 Sep.


Background: During the Ebola virus disease (EVD) epidemic in Liberia, contact tracing was implemented to rapidly detect new cases and prevent further transmission. We describe the scope and characteristics of contact tracing in Liberia and assess its performance during the 2014-2015 EVD epidemic.

Methodology/principal findings: We performed a retrospective descriptive analysis of data collection forms for contact tracing conducted in six counties during June 2014-July 2015. EVD case counts from situation reports in the same counties were used to assess contact tracing coverage and sensitivity. Contacts who presented with symptoms and/or died, and monitoring was stopped, were classified as "potential cases". Positive predictive value (PPV) was defined as the proportion of traced contacts who were identified as potential cases. Bivariate and multivariate logistic regression models were used to identify characteristics among potential cases. We analyzed 25,830 contact tracing records for contacts who had monitoring initiated or were last exposed between June 4, 2014 and July 13, 2015. Contact tracing was initiated for 26.7% of total EVD cases and detected 3.6% of all new cases during this period. Eighty-eight percent of contacts completed monitoring, and 334 contacts were identified as potential cases (PPV = 1.4%). Potential cases were more likely to be detected early in the outbreak; hail from rural areas; report multiple exposures and symptoms; have household contact or direct bodily or fluid contact; and report nausea, fever, or weakness compared to contacts who completed monitoring.

Conclusions/significance: Contact tracing was a critical intervention in Liberia and represented one of the largest contact tracing efforts during an epidemic in history. While there were notable improvements in implementation over time, these data suggest there were limitations to its performance-particularly in urban districts and during peak transmission. Recommendations for improving performance include integrated surveillance, decentralized management of multidisciplinary teams, comprehensive protocols, and community-led strategies.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Contact Tracing*
  • Disease Transmission, Infectious*
  • Epidemics*
  • Female
  • Hemorrhagic Fever, Ebola / epidemiology*
  • Hemorrhagic Fever, Ebola / transmission*
  • Humans
  • Liberia / epidemiology
  • Male
  • Predictive Value of Tests
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Sensitivity and Specificity