LONDON - The Ebola outbreak that originated in West Africa has now grown to more than 19,000 cases and nearly 7,600 deaths worldwide.
In Sierra Leone, the country hit hardest, the government banned holiday celebrations. On the radio, Christmas concerts were replaced by public health announcements.
But even before Sierra Leone took the drastic step of banning all public festivities over Christmas and New Year's, it was going to be a bleak holiday for Ebola orphans. Deprived of one or often both of their parents, they are cared for by survivors of the disease as the infection rate continues to rise in their country.
Sierra Leone has had more than 9,000 cases of Ebola -- more than three times that of Guinea and 1,200 more than Liberia.
American doctor Dan Kelly, an infectious disease expert who just returned from more than a month working in the West African country, says the Christmas ban is sad but necessary.
"I can only imagine how that would impact a country of people who are used to going home to their villages and their families," Kelly said. "I really hope that this is the last Christmas in Sierra Leone that we see the need for a ban."
One reason for the high infection rate is that families have continued to show reluctance in informing health authorities about Ebola cases. For many months Sierra Leoneans have been in denial, and workers at call centers are routinely called liars.
"Most of the people they don't believe in the Ebola stuff," said one worker.
Kelly is convinced infections will continue to flare for at least another six months, but that the roll out of Ebola vaccinations will be crucial in ending this epidemic.
"While we're waiting for vaccines to roll out and become available in West Africa, we need to be providing care," Kelly said. "Unless we do that, so many more people will not just be infected but die."
There is no vaccine currently on the market but scientists are racing to find ways to prevent Ebola. There are encouraging signs: the first-ever human trial of a possible vaccine showed promising results.