Home » Health Services » Untangling Skeins of Ebola Myths [opinion]

Ebola is the word on everyone’s lips these days. According to figures collated by 20 September 2014, 2803 people have died out of a total 5,843 with a prediction that 15 countries could become affected. With a stated 90 percent mortality rate for the disease, the horrific nature of the disease is spawning panic, even in Zimbabwe which has not been mapped as high or moderate risk.

As with many topical issues myths, facts, half truths and outright lies somehow become tangled and soon people are totally confused.

Some vendors at the flea markets where second hand clothes are sold are reporting a slowdown in business following the speculative information that the virus may be imported through the bales. Rumours about confirmed cases of Ebola that the Government is keeping under wraps to avoid panic have gone viral on social media.

These stories are being countered by those who believe that powerful prayers have projected an anti-Ebola shield over Zimbabwe. A church leader is said to have claimed that he is keeping Ebola at bay through his powers, assurance that sounds rather thin for the millions of Zimbabweans who do not believe in his anointing.

Even more worrisome are the concrete projections from respected sources like the World Health Organisation which predict that the virus will spread its deadly tentacles before this present outbreak is contained is fuelling fear.

This article will try to untangle the facts from the myths and set a realistic picture of how you should be reacting to the Ebola epidemic.

Where did Ebola come from?

Ebola has been present in central and west Africa for some time. It is believed that the virus is carried by animals and occasionally jumps to people resulting in sporadic outbreaks. Previous outbreaks have been deadly but have largely been contained within small geographic areas and they have died out in relatively short periods. The present outbreak appears to be the worst so far in term so geographic spread and time frame. Some experts have blamed the rapid spread on increased easy of travel saying that most previous outbreaks occurred in remote villages and there was little chance of people travelling beyond the areas before symptoms manifested.

What is Ebola?

The following information is taken directly from WebMd :Ebola is a rare but deadly virus that causes bleeding inside and outside the body.

As the virus spreads through the body, it damages the immune system and organs. Ultimately, it causes levels of blood-clotting cells to drop. This leads to severe, uncontrollable bleeding.

Early on, Ebola can feel like the flu or other illnesses. Symptoms show up 2 to 21 days after infection and usually include:

High fever


Joint and muscle aches

Sore throat


Stomach pain

Lack of appetite

As the disease gets worse, it causes bleeding inside the body, as well as from the eyes,ears, and nose. Some people will vomit or cough up blood, have bloody diarrhoea, and get a rash

Sometimes it’s hard to tell if a person has Ebola from the symptoms alone. Doctors may test to rule out other diseases like cholera

Tests of blood and tissues also can diagnose Ebola. – webmd.com

Can it come in undetected?

The relatively long incubation period for Ebola which is believed to be between two and 21 days has got many people worried in light of the easy of modern day travel. It only takes a few hours for someone to come from the infected areas and reach our country. So people are asking if a person who comes in seemingly fit then only starts showing the symptoms later might not spread the disease to all and sundry?

WebMD says not: “Ebola isn’t as contagious as more common viruses like colds, influenza, or measles. It spreads to people by contact with the skin or bodily fluids of an infected animal, like a monkey, chimp, or fruit bat. Then it moves from person to person the same way. Those who care for a sick person or bury someone who has died from the disease often get it.

Other ways to get Ebola include touching contaminated needles or surfaces.

You can’t get Ebola from air, water, or food. A person who has Ebola but has no symptoms can’t spread the disease, either.”

So technically an asymptomatic person may bring the virus into the country, but until they start showing the symptoms they will not infect anyone else.

The government has put in measures to train people at our entrance posts to pick out those showing possible signs of Ebola for immediate quarantine and isolation.

If a case is found it means that all those who would have been in contact with the infected person would need to be immediately quarantined until they get a clean bill of health.

So in practical terms, we hope that no one brings the virus to the country otherwise containment will not be easy.

Who is most at risk?

Statistics in some affected countries show that health and aid workers have been the hardest hit.

Although they are ensconced in kits that should ensure that they are not affected, many have been infected and have succumbed.

It is therefore natural that the most serious panic to date should have been spawned in the corridors of medical facilities.

Others who also run a high risk include the personnel on public transport systems including airplanes,

Danger in the second hand clothes markets?

The Ebola virus is spread by direct contact with infected people or animals through body fluids. Second hand clothes would have to be wet with sweat, saliva or blood to transmit the disease. Obviously the probability that second hand clothes will contain those fluids is high. But the probability that the fluids will be wet is almost nil. It is also worth noting that the clothes originate from Europe and America where the virus has not yet spread beyond two cases of aid workers who were quickly quarantined.

But the people who handle the clothes in transit or the vendors could be infected themselves. Referring above to the section on how Ebola is spread, the answer appears to be that there is no more risk in those clothes than in any other imported goods which may have been handles by infected people.

How can you protect yourself?

The only guard against Ebola is diligence. Cutting of travel to the affected countries is one way. If one should travel then stay as far away as possible from anyone who appears to have a fever. This may sound discriminatory, but with Ebola there is no time to play nice.

The second thing is to treat all bodily fluids with caution, after all they transmit many other viruses and pathogens which one should avoid.

Hand washing and avoiding touching surfaces used by many people like elevator buttons with bare hands In some affected countries handshakes and other have been discouraged.

Is Zimbabwe ready?

Should the unthinkable happen and an infected person gets into the country and spreads the virus, is the country ready to deal with the virus?

The Government has done all the right things like setting up isolation units, training medical personnel to handle cases and also procuring the protective and treatment kits.

But realistically, if Ebola gets into the country there will be death because it kills up to 90 percent of infected people. It is also important to note that this disease is caused by a virus which means that it is incurable.

Medical professionals can only attempt to alleviate the symptoms but cannot cure the disease.

The factors that lead to survival have not yet been identified.

Source : The Herald