In late July two Americans, including missionary Nancy Writebol with SIM USA and Dr. Kent Brantly with Samaritan’s Purse, were diagnosed with the deadly Ebola virus while working in Monrovia, Liberia.
Both faith-based organizations called for an international response to the outbreak of Ebola in Liberia and neighboring countries. The situation in Liberia continues to be critical, as the virus continues to spread.
With the return of two American missionaries for treatment, the CDC reports that this is the first time in U.S. history that someone infected with Ebola is known to have come into the nation.
This realization calls to mind “Five Things Christians Need to Know About the Ebola Outbreak."
1. How is Ebola different from other viruses?
Named after the Ebola River in Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of Congo), unlike some viruses that change over time, Ebola has virtually stayed the same since its discovery in 1976. Experts maintain that this fact illustrates that the environment in which the virus is found is horrifically unsanitary rather than the virus itself has become more volatile.
The Ebola virus is made up of five species: Bundibugyo, Ivory Coast, Reston, Sudan, and Zaire, named after their places of origin. Four of these five have caused disease in humans. While the Reston virus can infect humans, no illnesses or deaths have been reported.
2. How is Ebola spread?
Formerly known as Ebola hemorrhagic fever, Ebola is contracted through close contact with the blood, secretions, organs or other bodily fluids of infected animals. In Africa, infection has been documented through the handling of infected chimpanzees, gorillas, fruit bats, monkeys, forest antelope and porcupines found ill or dead or in the rainforest.
The World Health Organization reports that the scale of the ongoing outbreak of Ebola is unprecedented, with approximately 1599 confirmed and suspected cases reported, and 886 deaths in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone since March 2014.
Dr. Margaret Chan, WHO's director general, warns that the consequences of the outbreak could be “catastrophic” as the virus is spreading faster than the ability to control it.
“The scale of the Ebola outbreak, and the persistent threat it poses, requires WHO and Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone to take the response to a new level, and this will require increased resources, in-country medical expertise, regional preparedness and coordination,” Dr Chan said in a statement. “The countries have identified what they need, and WHO is reaching out to the international community to drive the response plan forward.”
Health organizations are working to get ahead of Ebola, but the international medical organization Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), also known as Doctors Without Borders, contends additional funds are needed to combat the virus.
“The epidemic is out of control,” says Dr. Bart Janssens, MSF director of operations. “With the appearance of new sites in Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia, there is a real risk of it spreading to other areas.”
Only a few organizations are treating people affected by the virus, which can kill up to 90 percent of those infected.
3. What are the symptoms and is there a cure for Ebola?
Doctors Without Borders inform that early on, warning signs are broad, making it difficult to diagnose. Symptoms can appear from two to 21 days after exposure.
According to the CDC symptoms of Ebola HF typically include, fever, headache, joint and muscle aches, weakness, diarrhea, vomiting, stomach pain and lack of appetite. Some patients may go on to experience rashes, red eyes, hiccups, chest pains, difficulty breathing, and swallowing.
Standard treatment for Ebola is limited to supportive therapy. This consists of hydrating the patient, maintaining their oxygen status and blood pressure, and treating for any further infections.
In recent days 33-year-old Dr. Brantly received treatment of an experimental serum at Emory University Hospital in Atlanta, Georgia that had an immediate and favorable impact.
"Our family is rejoicing over Kent's safe arrival, and we are confident that he is receiving the very best care,” said Dr. Brantly’s wife, Amber. “We are very grateful to the staff at Emory University Hospital, who have been so nice and welcoming to us. I was able to see Kent today. He is in good spirits. He thanked everyone for their prayers and asked for continued prayer for Nancy Writebol's full recovery."
4. Should Americans Be Concerned About An Ebola Outbreak in the U.S.?
A new national survey finds 58% of U.S. Adults are at least somewhat concerned about the threat of Ebola disease, according to a new Rasmussen Reports.
Arthur L. Caplan, Ph.D., founding head of the Division of Bioethics at New York University Langone Medical Center, says not so fast.
“Ebola is not going to run amok in downtown Boston, Cape May or Myrtle Beach or anywhere else in the U.S,” Caplan writes for NBCNews.com. “It is running amok in poor African nations because local authorities did not have the will or the resources to respond quickly, because no one confronted local funeral customs that expose people to Ebola, mainly because the world did not care much if hundreds died in poor, politically insignificant nations.”
Many experts are confident that a more stable healthcare system, as well as first world resources like gloves, hazmat suits and quarantine facilities would prevent Ebola from spreading in the U.S. like it has in West Africa.
“The harsh ethical truth is the Ebola epidemic happened because few people in the wealthy nations of the world cared enough to do anything about it,” Caplan wrote.
5. Was it right to allow the infected Americans back into the U.S.?
U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports there is a growing fear about the virus among Americans. So much so that the CDC reports that it has received "nasty emails" and more than 100 calls from people saying, "How dare you bring Ebola into the country!"
In recent days, noted figures have chimed in on the decision to allow the two infected Americans to return to the U.S.
On Newsmax TV, Dr. Ben Carson criticized the decision. A retired neurosurgeon and conservative commentator, Carson maintains that a medical delegation equipped with the needed supplies and resources to provide care should have been sent to Africa.
“It is a highly contagious disease and all it requires is some infractions in procedures and all of a sudden you have got more spread and that’s what I’m afraid of,” said Carson.
Billionaire Donald Trump joined Carson in condemning the decision. “Stop the EBOLA patients from entering the U.S.,” Tweeted Trump. “Treat them, at the highest level, over there. THE UNITED STATES HAS ENOUGH PROBLEMS!”
But many who have served in the mission field oversees vehemently disagree.
Having served in countries like India, Tibet, Japan and throughout the continent of Africa as an international disaster response nurse, Jill Davidson says Dr. Brantly and Nancy Writebol have sacrificially served the “least of these” and should be awarded the same kind of respect in their homeland.
“It makes me really angry that they are responding this way,” said Davidson. “I know people are afraid, but these are American citizens, and they have a better chance of survival here in the U.S.”
Davidson asserts if critics understand how horrific the conditions are in underdeveloped nations they wouldn’t judge the decision so harshly to allow the Americans to return for treatment.
“I'm glad we brought them home and gave them the best possible care and chance at survival.”
Penny Dugan is founder and director of New Jerusalem Missions based in Newton, Kansas. She’s worked with those infected with HIV/AIDS infected for more than two decades.
In 2004, Dugan established a hospice in Durban, South Africa that posed an even greater threat of contamination.
“As a missionary being very sick in Africa I would want to be home,” said Dugan. “I think it is the least they can do is care for one of their own. We care for everyone else.”
Russ Jones is co-founder of Christian News Service, a content creation and news distribution firm. He's also a media consultant to a number of cause oriented campaigns and organizations. Russ has been a guest on such programs as the Mike Gallagher Show, the Dennis Prager Show, Bill Martinez Live and Sandy Rios in the Morning. He holds degrees from the University of Missouri-Columbia and a master’s degree from St. Paul School of Theology. He is married to Jackie and together they have four children.