The current Ebola virus disease (EVD) epidemic in West Africa is unprecedented in scale, and Sierra Leone is the most severely affected country. The case fatality risk (CFR) and hospitalization fatality risk (HFR) were used to characterize the severity of infections in confirmed and probable EVD cases in Sierra Leone. Proportional hazards regression models were used to investigate factors associated with the risk of death in EVD cases. In total, there were 17 318 EVD cases reported in Sierra Leone from 23 May 2014 to 31 January 2015. Of the probable and confirmed EVD cases with a reported final outcome, a total of 2536 deaths and 886 recoveries were reported. CFR and HFR estimates were 74·2% [95% credibility interval (CrI) 72·6–75·5] and 68·9% (95% CrI 66·2–71·6), respectively. Risks of death were higher in the youngest (0–4 years) and oldest (⩾60 years) age groups, and in the calendar month of October 2014. Sex and occupational status did not significantly affect the mortality of EVD. The CFR and HFR estimates of EVD were very high in Sierra Leone.