Ebola: A Modern-Day Plague

Global Pestilence

The Ebola virus harkens back to Biblical plagues that tormented and tested people. While we tend to ridicule the Egyptians for their folly, it is important to recognize that we are tempted to worship false deities as well.

On July 25, 2014 Nigerian health authorities confirmed a diagnosis of Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) in a patient who died at a hospital in Lagos, Nigeria, after traveling from Liberia on July 20. The report marks the first Ebola case in Nigeria linked to the current outbreak in the West African countries of Guinea, Sierra Leone, and Liberia.

This recent outbreak was first reported in late March 2014. As of September 25, 2014, according to WHO, a total of 6,263 cases and 2,917 deaths (case fatality 55–60%) had been reported in West Africa.

What Is Ebola?

The disease is caused by infection with Ebola virus, named after a river in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (formerly Zaire) in Africa, where it was first recognized.

The virus can be transmitted in several ways. People can be exposed to Ebola virus from direct contact with the blood and/or secretions of an infected person. Thus, the virus is often spread through families and friends because they come in close contact with such secretions when caring for infected persons.

There is no standard treatment for Ebola. The only thing medical personnel can do for the patient is balance their fluids and electrolytes, maintain their oxygen status and blood pressure, and treat them for any complicating infections.

Spreading the Virus

In African health-care facilities, patients are often cared for without the use of a mask, gown, or gloves. Exposure to the virus has occurred when health care workers treated individuals with Ebola without wearing these types of protective clothing. In addition, when needles or syringes are used, they may not be of the disposable type, or may not have been sterilized, but only rinsed before reinsertion into multi-use vials of medicine. If needles or syringes become contaminated with the virus and are then reused, numerous people can become infected.

Doctors in Ghana fear their public health system could not handle an outbreak, and many have vowed to “run away” from Ebola patients if they are not given protective equipment.

Researchers do not understand why some people are able to recover from Ebola and others are not.

People can also still be exposed to the Ebola virus after a person’s death through direct contact with the bodily fluids of the deceased. This has become a significant problem where people have hidden the bodies of their loved ones from authorities to give the departed a traditional burial. Many contracted the disease during those preparations.

Myths and Fears Also Spread

There is nothing new about popular fear and panic in the face of a horrific disease that is poorly understood. Myths, misconceptions, and rumors about Ebola have spread throughout Africa. One myth is that Ebola can be avoided or prevented through salt baths or by sprinkling salt on the ground and praying for 21 days. Another myth being spread is that Ebola is transmitted by looking at a snake in a bag.

More fearsome myths include doctors in hospitals giving patients pills contaminated with Ebola to test experimental drugs on human victims. Another is that Ebola does not exist; doctors are harvesting organs and blood for cannibalism or to be sold.

Another rumor is that Ebola can be treated with raw onions, condensed milk, and mangos for three days, after which the patient will be cured. Some say Ebola is witchcraft; those who are dying are cursed.

Risks of a World-Wide Outbreak

A realistic fear is that the virus could spread outside of Africa to other parts of the world. The question is, “Will an infected person get on a plane and spread the disease? This is a low possibility for most Africans who may contract it, but it is a real one for health care workers. This is not a far-fetched idea. For the first time, a World Health Organization worker has fallen ill with Ebola.

The Biblical Plagues

The Ebola virus harkens back to Biblical plagues that tormented and tested people. The plague of boils was an attack on all the gods and goddesses that the Egyptians trusted for healing. When the Bible says that “the Lord … brought judgment on their gods” (Num 33:4), it is speaking comprehensively. Through the plagues God showed He could defeat the entire pantheon of Egyptian gods—Amun-Ra (god of the wind), Thoth (god of science), Imhotep (god of physicians), Sekhmet (goddess protectress of the pharaohs), and all the rest.

Perhaps this explains why God sent such a variety of plagues on the Egyptians: He wanted to expose the impotence of their idolatry by causing each and every idol to fail in its special area of expertise. When the Egyptians were covered with painful, oozing sores, they discovered that their gods could not heal.

The God of Modern Medicine

While we tend to ridicule the Egyptians for their folly, it is important to recognize that we are tempted to worship false deities as well.

During the twentieth century many diseases were virtually eradicated, diseases such as polio and smallpox. Today, scientists are making headway in curing other killers, including the Ebola virus. Genetic research will develop new forms of treatment for hereditary diseases, including medicines that manipulate human DNA.

Because of our advances in modern medicine and genetic research, it is tempting to make medicine an article of faith. Most patients go to the hospital believing they will be cured. Many believe that science will overcome death itself.

Despite all our skill at healing, we are not sovereign over the human body. This means that medical expertise must never become our source of ultimate confidence for physical well-being. Medicine makes a wonderful tool, but it can never replace God.

Whatever news we hear from this terrible outbreak, or even when we get a prescription filled or go in for surgery or start chemotherapy, we should remember that all healing comes from God and that Christ alone is Lord of our body.