Recent months have seen the outbreak of Ebola in several West African countries. Particularly hard hit have been Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone. A Sept. 23, 2014, Fox News report cited the World Health Organization (WHO), which stated that the death rate among the infected in each of these countries is around 70 percent. The WHO reported on Oct. 17, 2014, that Liberia had the most reported cases at just more than 4,600.
Alarm about the spread of the disease continues to grow around the world. The recent cases of a doctor in New York City contracting the virus after treating Ebola patients in Guinea, a Liberian man in Texas dying from the disease and the infection of health care workers has only heightened concern, as fear of a possible U.S. outbreak mounts.
What is Ebola?
Ebola, which was once known as Ebola hemorrhagic fever, is a rare, infectious, deadly disease that affects primarily humans and non-human primates, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The disease is marked by fever and severe internal bleeding and is spread through contact with infected body fluids.
The African Ebola virus (five different strains have been identified) was first discovered in 1976 near the Ebola River in the now Democratic Republic of the Congo. The CDC reports that previous outbreaks of the disease have occurred in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Gabon, South Sudan, Ivory Coast, Uganda, the Republic of the Congo and South Africa.
How is Ebola spread?
The CDC explains that Ebola is spread through direct contact, through broken skin or mucous membranes, with the blood or body fluids of an infected person, with objects (needles, syringes, etc.) contaminated with the virus or with infected animals. The virus is not spread through the air or by water, or, in general, food – though, in Africa, handling wild animals hunted for food can result in infection if the animal had contact with infected bats.
The U.S. response
The CDC has deployed several teams of public health experts to the affected West African region. Partnering with U.S. Customs and Border Protection, the CDC’s Division of Global Migration and Quarantine also has established traveler protocols to help protect against further spread of the disease.
In addition, President Barack Obama has already sent 3,000 military personnel to West Africa to assist in medical training, distribution of aid and the building of health care facilities. According to the Huffington Post, the U.S. has plans to distribute 400,000 home protective kits to the four most affected African nations, and will set up 1,700 beds in Liberia to treat Ebola patients.
The Church’s response
On Sept. 23, 2014, Des Moines Bishop Richard E. Pates, chair of the Committee on International Justice and Peace for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), was joined by Dr. Carolyn Y. Woo, president of Catholic Relief Services, in sending a letter to Ambassador Susan Rice, national security advisor to President Obama. In the letter, they urged the U.S. to urge donor nations “to increase their commitment to send disaster response teams and resources,” to make a long-term commitment to deal with the lack of capacity and resilience in the health systems of the affected countries, to collaborate with the Catholic Church to help battle the disease, and to prepare for the humanitarian and long-term impacts of the outbreak.
Catholic Relief Services (CRS), the official overseas relief and development agency of the USCCB, has committed more than $1.5 million in private funds to continue its emergency response to the Ebola outbreak in West Africa. According to its website, CRS is currently partnering with the local Catholic Church, religious leaders and the Ministries of Health in all three countries on public awareness campaigns aimed at teaching the population about Ebola, its spread and prevention. CRS staffers and partners are using the airwaves to disseminate critical messages about the virus, are training health volunteers to go door-to-door, especially in rural communities, and are distributing posters, fliers and fact sheets with educational information.
Pope Francis on the Outbreak
Pope Francis has added his voice to those calling for international efforts to respond to the outbreak and has urged the faithful to pray for those suffering from the ravages of Ebola. During a recent ad limina visit with bishops from Ghana, Pope Francis expressed, “I pray for the repose of the souls of all who have died in this epidemic, among whom are priests, men and women religious and healthcare workers who contracted this terrible disease while caring for those suffering. May God strengthen all health care workers there and bring an end to this tragedy!”
EBOLA BY THE NUMBERS
12 - 18 Predicted number of months the outbreak will last, according to U.S. scientists
12,750 Number of health workers called in by the World Health Organization to stem the outbreak
4,555 Estimated Ebola deaths as of 10/17/2014
9,216 Reported Ebola cases as of 10/17/2014
World Health Organization Ebola Response Update, 10/17/14;
World Post cited in 9/16/2014 Huffington Post; by Nick Robins-Early
Symptoms of Ebola
- Fever (greater than 38.6°C or 101.5°F)
- Severe headache
- Muscle pain
- Abdominal (stomach) pain
- Unexplained hemorrhage (bleeding or bruising)
Symptoms may appear anywhere from 2 to 21 days after exposure to Ebola, but the average is 8 to 10 days.
Recovery from Ebola depends on the patient’s immune response. People who recover from Ebola infection develop antibodies that last for at least 10 years.
– Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
How to protect against Ebola
Other than the obvious answer of avoiding areas affected by the 2014 outbreak and avoiding contact with blood and body fluids of infected people and animals, the CDC states that people can protect themselves from infection by frequently washing hands (chlorine apparently kills the virus on contact) or by using an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.