The Ebola virus is sweeping several West African countries and threatening nations around the globe. The virus was discovered in 1976 and so far has infected 2,232 people and claimed 1,503 lives, mostly in rural areas. However this highly contagious disease has now been discovered in the teeming capitals of Liberia, Sierre Leone and Guinea, some of the world’s poorest countries.
There have already been over 700 deaths and the World Health Organization says there is no licensed vaccine or cure. Scientists consider the fruit bat to be the probable culprit. Bats are not harmed by the virus and are often dried and eaten or made into soup. Africans enjoy a variety of “bush meat”, which encompasses any kind of meat brought out of the bush, including porcupine, small mammals, birds, apes or pigs. Sometimes infection occurs when eating poorly cooked meat, but a person may be infected by merely touching it or the droppings of infected animals on edible vegetation.
Symptoms appear for two to 21 days after exposure. First, there is fever, headache, muscle aches and weakness, followed by stomach pain, diarrhea and vomiting. Some people have rash, coughs and difficulty breathing or swallowing. As the disease progresses, the liver and kidneys fail and severe hemorrhaging occurs with patients bleeding from the ears, eyes, nose, mouth or rectum, leading to death. Infected people are highly contagious to anyone who touches them, their body fluids (urine, blood, saliva or even sweat), or their clothing.
Caregivers are at great risk. The Ebola virus has been known to kill up to 90 percent of the people infected. Proper medical treatment has lowered that to 60 percent, while 40 percent fought it off. Early treatment is key. Since patients are frequently dehydrated they need solutions with electrolytes or IV fluids, medications to reduce fever, and to be strictly quarantined. Care givers must avoid any straight skin-to-skin contact, so they need protective gear – thick layered suits, goggles, double gloves, and boots. In the jungle heat, with no air conditioning, it can get to a 115 degrees in a short time. Multiple showers of chlorine assist in decontamination.
Medical personnel also attempt to teach prevention. In that area of the world, many people do not know the “germ” theory of disease. Rather, they believe in spells and conspiracies. Hospitals have been set on fire and doctors may be perceived as agents of the disease. Their rituals include bathing and touching the dead. Often the sick are not treated, but hidden away where they infect others. In Liberia, the doctors were already on strike and the Peace Corps has pulled 340 volunteers from Guinea, Sierre Leone and Liberia because of the danger and place two of their volunteers in isolation. They presently have no symptoms, but had contact with an infected person who later died.
The first American killed was Patrick Sawyer, who moved to his native Liberia to work in the Ministry of Finance. He had helped care for his sister, who he thought had malaria. He boarded a plane to Nigeria and arrived sick and vomiting. He was immediately quarantined but died five days later, leaving his widow, Dicontee Sawyer and three children in the U.S. After his death from Ebola, the hospital was evacuated and they began a decontamination process, but many worry about the virus threatening to sweep to other countries.
Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf closed several border crossings, formed a new task force to contain the disease and ordered strict quarantines of communities affected by Ebola. Sierre Leone’s chief doctor died while working with Ebola patients. Nigeria’s airports, seaports, and land borders are on red alert. Dr. Kent Brantly, a family practice physician from North Carolina’s Samaritan’s Purse who is working in Monrovia, recognized symptoms and straightaway isolated himself. His co-worker, Nancy Whitebal, who worked as a hygienist decontaminating those entering and leaving the hospital, is also infected with the virus and in serious condition. She worked with Serving in Mission (SIM), which runs the Eternal Love Winning Africa (ELWA) hospital.
Dr. Brantly was evacuated to the Emory University Hospital in Atlanta on Saturday, and Mrs. Whitebal is scheduled to arrive on Tuesday. the CDC assures that the risk to the public is “net zero” given their facilities and expertise. Dr. Brantly’s wife and two children ask for continued prayer for Kent, Nancy, and all the West African workers infected with the Ebola virus as this threat sweeps the region. Non-essential Samaritan’s Purse personnel are being evacuated, but medical staff remain to fight Ebola. As Samaritan’s Purse President Franklin Graham requests “please pray urgently” for them and this horrible situation.
By Laurie Stilwell