Liberia (MNN) — Sierra Leone, Liberia, and Nigeria have declared states of emergency over the growing Ebola outbreak.
World Health Organization (WHO) experts declared an international public health emergency in response to the epidemic, which has killed 932 people so far.
Blockades have gone up in Sierra Leone, while airlines are cancelling flights and screening is intensifying. Why? Sheila Leech, Vice President of Reach Beyond Global Healthcare overseeing Global Hands work around the world, explains, “The medical intervention, at this point, is in containment of the disease. That is just by keeping the people infected with Ebola and treating them in a very special way. You will have seen on the news, people wearing special suits. That’s to protect them, principally.”
Are mounting concerns alarmist? Leech says there’s a reason people are taking it seriously. “Recent outbreaks of Ebola in West Africa have been alarming in that it is an unprecedented outbreak. More people have been affected through this outbreak with Ebola, covering more countries, than ever before.”
It’s a disease spread by physical contact with body fluids, causes an agonizing and horrifying death; yet, the pathogen can be killed by washing with soap and water. Medical aid workers say myths and ignorance have been responsible for the scope of the outbreak.
While it is unlikely that the average person in the United States will contract it, in areas where the contagion has crossed borders, Leech says, “When somebody actually tests positive for Ebola, it’s supportive measures. There is no vaccine, there is no medicine that is effective against Ebola. The only thing that you can do is support with fluids and take caring measures to make the patient comfortable.”
What’s more, by the time symptoms manifest, the virus might have been spread. Leech clarifies, “It can take between 2-21 days for the incubation period, so it’s possible to have been in contact with an Ebola patient and be infected for up to 21 days before the symptoms start.” Even after death, the threat hasn’t abated, she adds. “People do continue to be infectious after they die, so the burial of Ebola patients is a very important aspect of the containment process.”
Most at risk are the relatives and healthcare workers attending Ebola victims.
After Dr. Kent Brantly and Nancy Writebol contracted the virus, they were sent Stateside for treatment. Both are showing signs of improvement. Shortly thereafter, SIM and its partner, Samaritan’s Purse, decided to curtail operations in Liberia and evacuated nonessential personnel due to the spread of the virus, as well as security issues.
One point of good news is the chance of survival improves if it’s caught early enough. “Recently, with some of the supportive measures in place, the actual outbreak in West Africa has been able to reduce the mortality rate to 60%, which is quite a big difference.” Still, the isolation a patient experiences while trying to recover is disheartening.
Gentle care and a little extra time can go a long way toward sharing the hope that comes from Christ. “Pray for our patients that are going through this terrible situation that they will know the comfort of God even though they can’t feel the comfort of human touch. We need to be praying for healthcare workers, for protection for them.”