Ebola Disease Facts For Community and HouseholdHealth
Prepared for the Liberia Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church by
Richard A. Nisbett
A project of
The General Board of Discipleship
The General Board of Higher Education and Ministry
The Vanderbilt Institute for Global Health
EBOLA DISEASE FACTS: FOR COMMUNITY AND HOUSEHOLD HEALTH
Copyright ©2014 Richard A. Nisbett
Published by Discipleship Resources International™. All rights reserved.
A project in partnership with the Vanderbilt Institute of Global Health, the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry of the United Methodist Church, and the General Board of Discipleship of the United Methodist Church. Discipleship Resources International™ and design logos are trademarks owned by Discipleship Resources®,a ministry of GBOD®. All rights reserved.
All scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved. First printing: 2014 Printed in Monrovia, Liberia
Dr. James K. Gray produced the summary of community approaches taken in previous Ebola epidemics in Liberia, and here we gratefully acknowledge his valuable assistance in helping with the “What Can Communities Do?” section.
Special thanks to these people who reviewed this material before publication: Bishop John Innis, Rev. George Wilson, Rev. Dr. Jerry Kulah, Rev. Dr. Yatta Young, Rev. Dr. George K. Weagba, Rev. Joseph Garkpee, E. Julu Swen, Kaye Gbongolo
Ebola Disease Facts
The Parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:30-37, New Revised Standard Version)
30 Jesus replied [to the lawyer who was testing him], “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead. 31 Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. 32 So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan while traveling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity. 34 He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. 35 The next day he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said, ‘Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend.’ 36 Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” 37 He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”
The Parable of the Good Samaritan appeals to us as followers of Christ because it shows us how to put his teachings into action. Jesus taught us (Matthew 25:35-45) that whenever we minister to and show mercy to others by clothing, feeding or caring for them, it is the same as if we are doing this to Him. We have all found ourselves in need and were cared for. Families care for one another all the time. Sometimes, care is given to us by a stranger like the Good Samaritan.
We experience God’s love in the process of caring, yet we know that sometimes those who care for others—even if they are family members—are cast out by family members or community, as with leprosy. Sometimes in trying to help us these caregivers get injured or sick themselves. Some diseases attack the caregivers; Ebola is one of those diseases.
We believe that Ebola is so deadly in West Africa because our culture is to help those in need, to touch and hug our loved ones, even to care for strangers and give them the Liberian hospitality admired around the world. We also prepare the bodies of those we love for their Homegoing where we gather as a community to honor them, and this can expose us to Ebola virus.
As Christians, what do we need to know about Ebola, and how should we act during this Ebola crisis for Liberia?
Each time a disease like Ebola attacks a country, it often attacks in a different way. Ebola may attack differently in Liberia than in Uganda. There are many kinds of Doctors who study diseases and who find ways to cure and heal those made sick, but also there are Doctors who seek to learn how to protect people and prevent illness. All of the information provided here is based on what these many different types of Doctors, the “Specialists,” have learned to care for the ill and to control Ebola when it attacks a community.
Because Ebola is new to West Africa, Doctors have had to learn how Ebola is now attacking Liberia. Some of this information is important only to Liberia because Ebola has attacked Liberia in a different way than when it previously attacked other countries. This information will tell us how one catches the Ebola virus, how to know who is sick with Ebola, and how to protect ourselves and our communities from Ebola.
II. How Ebola Catches Us: What is Ebola and where did it come from? How does it catch people?
The Doctors who study Ebola believe that this disease lives in High Bush around the world and that it existed even in way-back times. More recently, when Ebola has attacked a country, it has happened in upcountry, rural communities in Eastern and Central Africa. However, Doctors believe that Ebola also lives in some Asian forests, in particular, the Philippines.
Previous Outbreaks in Africa. Liberia is not the first country in Africa to be attacked by Ebola. Doctors call the type of germ that causes Ebola a “virus.” These are very small germs, which, like people, are different depending on where they live. The Ebola virus in Zaire or Congo is a little different from the one that was in Côte d’ Ivoire and the new one in Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone. Here is a brief history of previous major Ebola outbreaks:
Sudan: 1976, 1979, 2004 Zaire/Congo: 1976, 1995, 2002, 2003
Gabon: 1994, 1996, 1997, 2001 D. R. Congo: 2007, 2009, 2012, 2014
Uganda: 2001, 2008, 2012 Côte d’Ivoire: Small outbreak, 1994
Inside the High Bush forests, Ebola is a virus that lives inside animals. The most likely animal that Ebola calls home is the large fruit bat which lives in large communities in the trees. Most of us have seen these large bat villages in Cotton Trees or large Plum Trees. Doctors believe that the bats don’t get sick from Ebola, but when the bats eat fruit and then some of the fruit falls to the ground, deer and monkeys on the ground sometimes get Ebola from eating the fruit which is dropped by the bats. (In my kitchen garden in Harper, I had a butter pear tree and a plum tree. When the fruit was ripe, the bats would come at night to eat in the trees. In the morning, there were plenty half-eaten butter pears or plums on the ground under the tree.)
Sometimes people find a dead animal in the Bush and bring home the fresh bush meat to use in soup and gravy. If people eat or butcher a bat or deer or monkey or baboon which has become infected with Ebola, that person may be attacked by Ebola. Doctors believe that people can also be caught by Ebola if they gather and eat the tree fruits (pawpaw [papaya], butter pear [avocado], plum [mango], breadfruit, and many others) that have been tasted and dropped by the bats, just like the High Bush animals can become sick if they eat this fallen fruit.
There are many types of fruit bats. Some types are eaten as bushmeat in West Afric.. Hunters or people who butcher bushmeat for food or to sell in markets are believed by Doctors to be at high risk of Ebola infection. Usually, the chance of catching Ebola is very small; but sometimes when many in the bat community are infected, it is more likely that people will be caught by Ebola.
Doctors do not know why sometimes the fruit bats are more dangerous than at other times. The fruit bats are the only bats that carry Ebola. These are the large bats with the face of a dog. These bats do not die or even seem to get sick from Ebola. However, the other forest animals like deer, monkeys, baboon, and also people who get Ebola become very sick and 50-90% will die from Ebola.
Ebola lives in the fruit bats but Doctors know that Ebola can live for a while in the body fluids of animals or people that become infected. Ebola can live in saliva, mucous, sweat, blood, urine and feces (poopoo). It may live in other body fluid like tears and sexual fluids. Whether a person is infected by butchering or eating an infected animal that was killed or found in the High Bush, or infected after gathering, touching or eating the fruit found on the ground under trees, the person can become very sick and pass on Ebola to other people.
When Ebola catches people, it can be very dangerous and make the entire community sick. Ebola moves between people whenever someone is in direct contact with the body fluids of the infected person. This transmission of Ebola to people can occur when touching the vomit or diarrhea of infected persons or when preparing the body to bury someone who has died from Ebola. Ebola can catch us when we are caring for others who are infected. In some countries, 9 of the 10 people caught by Ebola will die. In Liberia during this Ebola attack, about 5-6 of every 10 people caught by Ebola have died.
There are not many treatments to cure Ebola, and there are not many medicines to take to prevent being caught. Traditional healers do not have strong medicines to prevent being caught by Ebola. The best way to protect oneself and one’s community is to prevent Ebola from infecting people.
III. Who Does Ebola Catch First, and How Do We Know?: What symptoms will a person have if infected? Who must be very careful?
When people catch diseases that can be spread from germs, animals or from one person to another, the first symptoms often include fever, headache, muscle ache, sore throat. These symptoms are seen in many diseases like malaria, typhoid, influenza or fresh cold, etc., as well as in Ebola. After these first signs, Ebola will take from 2 days to 21 days to make the person very ill. Usually, after about 8-10 days, or 1 week, the fever will be very high and the infected person will suddenly show symptoms of weakness, vomiting blood, having bloody diarrhea. They may have the hiccups. There may be bleeding inside the body and bruises or rashes on the skin. This is when the person is very ill and can give Ebola to other persons who come in contact with those body fluids. In another few days, the infected person may bleed from the nose, mouth, eyes, or anus. After these bloody symptoms occur, the person will fight the virus for 3-15 more days. Some people will survive and others will die. When someone is a survivor, they are no longer infectious and cannot give Ebola to other people.
Those persons who are Good Samaritans, who are CAREGIVERS, are the ones who must be most careful not to have direct contact with any of these body fluids where the virus lives. This is why Medical Doctors, Nurses, other Caregivers, family members taking care of sick ones, and housekeepers who clean up, are most vulnerable to Ebola. However, any Good Samaritan who helps someone who is infected with Ebola and who comes in contact with that infected person’s body fluids can be caught by Ebola. Ebola can live outside a body even when the fluids have dried. If it is warm and humid, or the fluids stay wet, Ebola can live for 7-8 days longer. If someone comes in contact with body fluids or dried fluids, Ebola enters the person through openings in the skin. These openings may be natural ones like eyes, nose, mouth, sexual organs or even cuts or breaks or scratches on the skin due to small-small injuries like cutting a finger while preparing food to cook.
Summary: Signs and Symptoms of Ebola Infection.
After someone is exposed, symptoms can start at any time from 2 days to 21 days. Usually, the severe symptoms show up in 8-10 days. Even though other diseases may look the same, in the beginning the
Ebola symptoms to watch include:
• Fever (greater than 38.6°C or 101.5°F)
• Strong headache (head is hurting)
• Muscle soreness or pain
• Weakness or loss of appetite
A few days later, one should watch for sudden beginning of these symptoms:
• Diarrhea (runny stomach, especially if bloody)
• Abdominal (stomach) pain
• Unexplained rashes, bruising, blistering, or bleeding
Even if the early symptoms are the same as for a fresh cold or malaria or typhoid, someone with Ebola will get much sicker within a few days. The person may also have trouble breathing and swallowing, may have pain in the chest, or show bruising and blisters.
When these later symptoms show, the infected person will have bleeding inside the body and also bleeding might start coming out of the body from openings like eyes, ears, anus, and mouth. However, not every person Ebola has caught will show the bad bleeding outside the body.
When the Ebola infection reaches these last symptoms, the person may have low blood pressure or may have a yellowing of the eyes, or both. Sometimes the person will show confusion of the mind, may have body jerking (seizures) and even go into a sleepy state (coma) where she is not responsive (cannot hear, recognize loved ones, or answer questions).
If the person is in the hospital, doctors will give strong care—like fluids to give the body more water that is lost with vomiting and diarrhea. The doctors may replace blood lost from bleeding and give medicines for other infections the person might catch. This strong care in hospital is called “supportive care” and it helps the person fight Ebola.
IV. What Can We Do to Beat Ebola?: How can we protect ourselves, our loved ones, our communities?
Personal hygiene. It is important to always follow high personal standards of hand washing. Liberians are well known for strong personal hygiene even when water must be carried from far away. Always wash hands thoroughly using strong scrubbing with soap, cleaning under the fingernails, and rinsing with clean water and drying with clean cloth. It is important to take time to wash hands for 30 seconds, or for the time it takes to either sing one verse of the Liberian National Anthem or one verse from your favorite church hymn.
Always try to treat and cover any cuts or bruises from daily work activities. Ebola cannot live long when exposed to sunlight or high temperatures. Using soap and water is important but Ebola can always be beaten with products like alcohol, liquid bleach, or bleach powder. A person can wash their hands in water and household bleach that has a label saying “5.25%.” To make this strong water (Doctors call it “disinfectant”) for washing hands or body, mix 1 unit of household bleach to 100 units of water. A unit can be any item like a cup or a can or a bucket used to measure.
For example, you can use 1 cup of household bleach to 100 cups of water to fill a container of strong water for everyone to use when washing their hands. Hand sanitizers sold in the stores are good but the label must say “70% alcohol.” You can use bottled alcohol from the store but the label must say “70%.” Never let someone drink the strong water because that would be dangerous. Make a sign to put on any container with strong water to make sure that others know it is not good cold water for drinking. Household
bleach will also corrode (damage) or discolor (take the color away) from some items.
Household Cleaning. A person should always wear protection over the skin when cleaning up where an Ebola victim has left fluids, even if these fluids have dried. To clean up spills of body fluids that might have Ebola, use a mixture of 1 unit (cup, can, bucket) of household bleach to 10 units (cup, can, bucket) of water. You can scrub surfaces like counters, furniture and floors with the strong water and wash out containers like pans and tubs.
Anything you wash must be allowed to hold the strong water mixture for at least 10 minutes before rinsing away with clean water. If you are cleaning bloody sheets or clothes, it is best to soak these cloths in a tub with strong water for 10-15 minutes. You can use a stronger mixture for cleanup if you have worries. A stronger mixture would be 1 unit (cup, can, bucket) of household bleach to 5 units (cup, can, bucket) of water. Always wear plastic gloves when using very strong water with bleach or when using boiling water.
To clean kitchen and eating utensils like pots, pans, spoons or other household items that may have been in contact with body fluids from infected persons, you can wash with soapy water, or the strong water, but always let these items soak for 10 minutes. Heat also kills Ebola. You can use hot boiling water alone to kill Ebola but the items must be kept in the boiling water for 5 minutes.
CLEANING KITCHEN UTENSILS Heat kills Ebola. Boil items for 5 minutes .
Covering Exposed Skin. To be certain of protection when caring for a person known to be infected,
Doctors and Nurses must wear full body protection gear. This gear covers all exposed skin and all body openings like eyes and noses and is called “PPEs,” standing for Personal Protection Equipment. The USA and many Government of Liberia (GOL) partners have provided for these “personal protection kits” to be distributed throughout Liberia, not only to hospitals and clinics, but also to households where there are caregivers needing protection.
PPE Household kits will contain latex and plastic gloves, plastic suits, masks, eye protectors, etc. The County Health Team and local hospital or clinic are to be supplied with these PPEs.
Fatu Kerkula is a young Liberian who is training to be a nurse. When several of her family members become infected with Ebola, she was smart and used plastic bags, a plastic sports jacket, and other items acquired locally to protect herself and to care for her family members. Fatu inspired the world with her devotion and solution using available materials like black plastic bags, boots, tape and a mask. UNICEF is now training others in Liberia how to use Fatu’s inexpensive protection gear.
Summary: Safety Tips.
• Always cover exposed skin when touching items with body fluid from an Ebola victim
• Use good hand washing using soapy water
• Make strong water using household bleach
• Use strong water with household bleach to clean up areas with body fluids (both wet and dry) and to wash household items or clothes, bed sheets and mattresses, floors, etc.
V. What Can Communities Do?: What actions can communities take to prevent the spread of Ebola?
Communities can do the most to prevent the spread of Ebola by controlling it at the beginning. Communities need to have good information like we are providing here and then work with community leaders and other resources like churches, schools, civil society organizations, NGOs, etc. Many African Doctors who have beaten Ebola in countries like the Congo and Uganda have shown that communities can be organized to identify Ebola and care for their own when outside partners help with supplies and cooperation. Dr. Malonga Miatudila is a Congolese doctor who was active in that nation’s response to the Ebola outbreaks in 1976 and 1993 and later served for more than sixteen years as a Senior Public Health Specialist at The World Bank. Dr. Miat, as he is familiarly known, is a strong advocate for first giving communities the information and tools they need to care for those infected with Ebola and then allowing them to take care of their own.
Dr. Miat from the Congo has shown that communities can:
• Find Ebola cases early to prevent spreading
• Learn Ebola prevention and control information
• Communicate this information to family, friends and other communities
• Care for Ebola cases in their communities
• Work with the County Health Teams and other outside partners to control and beat Ebola
Doctors feel that communities facing Ebola can be mobilized and empowered by building capacity to respond. Clergy and other local leaders who are trusted can lead this capacity-building by:
• Telling local leaders that their people are needlessly dying and explaining why and how these deaths are occurring.
• Not repeating myths and hysteria. It has been shown that outside people showing up in villages dressed in gowns and masks will increase hysteria.
• Giving good information, mainly through local opinion leaders. There is a need to rely on local leaders (chiefs, religious leaders, traditional healers) who have earned people’s trust.
• Working with communities in deciding how to translate information into action. Communities know how to solve problems and know what their own priorities are.
• Asking communities what they need to beat Ebola (for example, protection, chlorine bleach, gloves); and then,
• Working with the County Health Teams and outsiders to find the supplies and then manage the supplies that the community and households need. During the Ebola outbreak in Uganda in 2001, community-based priorities included:
• Community meetings with County and District health leaders.
• Training of Community Health Workers and Traditional Healers on how to identify and control Ebola.
• Spreading the information through training, posters and theatrical plays and songs.
• Suspending traditional practices like handshakes and hugging as greetings, large gatherings at discos or video parlors
• Temporarily banning traditional burial practices and traditional healers from practicing when activities like laying on of hands might spread Ebola
• Creating agreement from all community members, teachers, church leaders, traditional healers and county health people, and all leadership (men’s, women’s, youth) to work together and obey the restrictions Communities suffer most when Ebola attacks. Communities can be leaders in preventing and controlling Ebola.
VI. Questions and Answers: What kinds of questions do people in Liberia have about Ebola?
1. If you cook bush meat very completely, will it kill Ebola? Killing and butchering bush meat from an animal that has Ebola is very dangerous. If bush meat is cooked thoroughly, the heat will kill Ebola. However, Ebola catches you during killing, collecting, carrying, or butchering an animal that is infected.
2. Can village animals like chickens, goats or dogs carry Ebola? Doctors believe that the only animals that can be infected and not get sick are fruit bats. Other High Bush animals get sick and die from Ebola. Doctors believe the same is true for domestic animals—that if Ebola catches these animals, they will die. However, in the Congo Ebola outbreaks, domestic dogs did get Ebola; however, there is no evidence that dogs passed it to humans. You should not eat the meat of forest or domestic animals that are found dead or died due to unknown causes.
3. Can you eat fruits fallen under a tree if you did not see bats? Ripe fruits will fall from a tree without bats being the cause. If you find fruits under a tree that look like an animal has gnawed on them, you should not touch them. Even if the fruits don’t have animal tooth marks, if collected they should be washed thoroughly in soapy water and left to dry in the sun. Thorough cooking of fruits and vegetables will kill Ebola.
4. How can you properly wash fruits and vegetables? You can wash fruits and vegetables with soapy water just like you can for washing your hands and other items. You must scrub the food very thoroughly and rinse in clean water. You should not wash any food you will eat in the strong water made with household bleach.
5. How do you clean cooking and eating utensils? Cooking and eating utensils that may have been touched by Ebola fluids should be washed in hot, soapy water. They can soak in boiling water for at least 5 minutes. You can also use strong water and let the utensils soak for at least 10 minutes before rinsing with clean water.
6. Can you catch Ebola from breathing when an infected person coughs or sneezes?
Diseases like influenza, fresh cold and TB can be caught when someone sneezes or coughs into the air.
Ebola is a virus which is a very small germ and it can live in fluids like saliva, urine, feces (poopoo), blood, or mucous. When coughed or sneezed, if this body fluid enters an opening in the skin like eyes, nose or a cut you can get Ebola, but this would be very rare. It is very hard for Ebola to spread in the air. Doctors will tell you that you are at risk from the fluids of the body, not from the air.
7. How long can Ebola live outside the body? Heat and sunlight can kill Ebola. If it is warm and moist, Ebola can live. If body fluids dry, doctors believe that Ebola can live in the dried body fluids for about 1-2 days. It can be transmitted when these dried fluids are not cleaned up. If body fluids remain wet and moist so that heat or sunlight cannot kill Ebola, Doctors believe Ebola can live for up to 7 days. Whether dry or wet, body fluids from an infected person should be cleaned up immediately using strong water and protection to cover the skin and all body openings.
8. Can casual contact like sitting next to an infected person let Ebola catch you? Ebola is caught by direct contact with body fluids. If you sit next to an infected person but you have no contact with body fluids, you cannot get Ebola. If, however, there are body fluids on the person’s clothes or possessions and if you are in direct contact with them, and if Ebola can get into a body opening, you will likely catch Ebola.
9. Can you get Ebola from handshaking, holding hands, or hugging an infected person?
Ebola cannot be caught by typical casual contact. However, if there are body fluids on a person and you have direct contact with body fluids (like on the hands) you can get Ebola from any of these activities.
10. Can you get Ebola from riding on a motorbike (pehn pehn) or a taxi? Ebola cannot be spread by casual contact like even sitting next to an infected person. If there are body fluids on the bike, the car, the seat or on the clothes or item left on or in the vehicle, and if you have direct contact, you can catch Ebola.
11. Can you get Ebola from kissing? From sleeping on the same bed or sitting in the same chair? Ebola is caused by direct contact with body fluids of an infected person. Whether kissing, sleeping, or sitting next to another, it cannot be spread without the exchange of body fluids. If someone has Ebola, you should not kiss any exposed skin or body opening like the mouth, eyes, or nose that might have body fluids.
12. Can you get Ebola from having sexual relations? If someone has Ebola, you should not have sexual relations, as Ebola lives in the body fluids. If someone has had Ebola and survives, that person is generally not infective, but should not have sexual relations for 3 months. Ebola can live in the sexual fluids (such as semen) for up to 3 months after the person has gotten well.
13. Can you get Ebola from touching or using shared household items like cups/drinking glasses, plates, towels, or door handles?
Any object—whether cloth, wood, metal, plastic—which has body fluids from an infected person can transmit Ebola. Usually, Ebola does not live long on objects but it may live for as long as 7 days. All items or objects exposed to Ebola should be cleaned using boiling water for 5 minutes or using strong water with household bleach.
14. Can you get Ebola from handling equipment like a cutlass or a shovel that was used by an Ebola victim or to bury an Ebola victim?
Ebola can live on surfaces for days. All equipment exposed to body fluids should be cleaned thoroughly using protective gear and strong water (with household bleach).
15. Can you get Ebola from using a toilet or a piped-water spigot? Ebola can live on surfaces like toilet seats or water pipes. All objects exposed to body fluids from an infected person should be cleaned thoroughly.
16. How do you clean surfaces, household items, or cloths which have body fluids from an Ebola victim? All objects, surfaces or items should be cleaned with soapy water, boiling for at least 5 minutes, or using strong water with household bleach and soaking for at least 10 minutes.
17. Can a person who is infected but only has a fever give you Ebola? Ebola can cause symptoms like fever and head hurting before the virus comes to live in body fluids. A person who does not have the later symptoms of Ebola like vomiting and diarrhea is not able to spread Ebola.
18. Can you get Ebola by taking care of an infected child like cleaning, bathing, changing stained clothes? Any person of any age can give you Ebola if they are having the symptoms that cause body fluids to be spread. Caring for an elderly person or a young child with Ebola requires the same safety. Cleaning the body or dirty clothes or items can spread Ebola if you are not protected.
19. If someone beats Ebola and survives, can that person still infect others with Ebola? Someone who survives Ebola and is well cannot spread Ebola again. However, sexual relations with a survivor must be avoided because Ebola can live in sexual fluids for as long as 3 months after a person has beaten Ebola.
20. Should anyone fear a child who is orphaned by Ebola? If one or both of a child’s parents or other family member dies of Ebola and if the child does not get caught by Ebola, the child cannot give Ebola to anyone. However, the household must be cleaned using protection and strong water.
Do you still have questions about Ebola? Please feel free to send your questions by email, text, or Facebook:
Richard A. “Ran” Nisbett, PhD, MSPH
Institute for Global Health
Vanderbilt School of Medicine
Nashville, TN, USA
U.S. Mobile: (832) 512-1761
WVS Tubman University
Harper City, Maryland County, Liberia
Richard A. Nisbett is also on Facebook and LinkedIn.