Ebola fears seem to be as contagious as the virus itself. Sierra Leone’s government will deploy hundreds of police officers and troops to ensure Ebola patients are kept isolated. There have been too many cases of families snatching relatives from clinics and not following quarantine rules. There have been over 750 soldiers sent to clinics housing Ebola patients.
Local people feel that outsiders are bringing the disease to them. “They say when you go to be checked, you do not come out again,” explained one woman. Another added, “They think if they are not getting medicine, they are going there for nothing.” Current treatment is to give IV for dehydration and antibiotics to fight infections.
Many Africans do not understand why they are being told to not eat bush meat. The virus probably came from infected fruit bats or other jungle animals and then continues to be spread through contact with body fluids. Africans eat a wide variety of bush meat including deer, rats, chimpanzee, bats, basically any meat they can get. Other sources of protein are too expensive and besides, they have always eaten bush meat.
There is much that is still not known about Ebola. There are actually five species, with four that cause disease in humans. Scientists believe the virus secretes a protein that allows it to hide from antibodies, a protein produced by the immune system against harmful invaders. Ebola first brings on severe body aches, extreme headaches, vomiting and diarrhea. Inside blood clots form. In the final stages the patient breaks out in a rash and begins bleeding from all body orifices.
The highest levels of the U.S. government seem to fear the Ebola virus contagion. “That the U.S. government takes the potential of Ebola as a bio-terror agent seriously is clear from the fact that it has invested tens of thousands of dollars over the last decade.” declares professor at Cambridge University, Peter D. Walsh. Mapp Pharmaceuticals, the company that supplied the serum to the two missionaries recently returned from Liberia, reportedly works with the National Institute of Health and the Defense Threat Reduction Agency. In 2010, the U.S. Department of Defense signed a contract for $140 million to develop a treatment. That company, Tekmira, was furnished a Fast Track designation in March of this year.
The fear is not unfounded. In 1998, Kenneth Alibek, claimed to have worked with the Soviets and among his assignments was “the creation of Ebola biological weapons.” In 1996, the Japanese cult group, Aum Shiarikyo, traveled to Zaire to collect samples of the Ebola virus. Later this group killed several dozens of people in a crowded Tokyo subway with sarin nerve gas. The current outbreak is near the region where the terrorist group Boko Hamas operates, which kidnapped more than 200 girls earlier this year.
In 1976, when there were two outbreaks of this deadly virus in Sudan and Zaire, with 602 cases and 431 deaths, the CDC began research on the epidemic there. They coined the name Ebola after a river that ran near the village where the epidemic began. They collected blood samples from the native population and any expatriates in the area.
Dr. Thomas Cairns, who was doing missionary work in Zaire was the only one found who carried a large amount of antibodies resistant to the virus in his blood. That was the first he knew that he was an Ebola survivor. Four years earlier Cairns had nicked himself with a scalpel while performing an autopsy on a boy who had died inexplicably. Twelve days later he had high fever, rash, and intense muscle aches. “My hair turned white. We thought it was going to kill me.” he confided.
Health officials took samples of his blood to store in CDC freezers in Atlanta to study and use to treat victims who might come into contact with it, fearing the contagious Ebola virus. Cairns says now, “It was literally the grace of God that brought me around back then. I’m very thankful to God.”
By Laurie Stilwell