On the 20th of July 2014, a relatively unknown man by the name of Patrick Sawyer, boarded a flight from Liberia to Nigeria. He became popular 5 days later; he died of Ebola at a Lagos hospital.
Life as we knew it, was about to change.
The Lies (and half-truths)….
when the news first broke, of a suspected case of Ebola in the country, the official story was that Patrick Sawyer was on a connecting flight to Calabar for an ECOWAS meeting. He felt ill on the flight to Lagos and turned himself over to Port Health officials, on account of having just come in from Liberia where there is an on-going Ebola epidemic. Health officials assured us that he had had minimal contact with the general population and in fact, all was well.
I was scared for the people that had been in close proximity to him on the plane, especially with the news that he had vomited in-flight. I wasn’t too worried about the health workers. If Sawyer had voluntarily given that information, they would have taken appropriate protective measures.
A few days later, the story was tweaked a bit.. He had been in the hospital for a day, before it was suspected that he could have Ebola. Then tweaked again; he didn’t turn himself over to the authorities, in fact, he had to be forcibly detained, as he had tried to pull some strings to extricate himself from quarantine.
Yet another version, he had been sick in Liberia and attempts had been made to prevent him from leaving the country, but he ‘snuck’ away.
Yesterday, while trying to follow up the news online, I saw an article where the ECOWAS vice president in was quoted as having said that they were closing their offices in Lagos because Sawyer came there, met with a couple of people, was driven around by a driver in a car that was assigned to him (http://www.punchng.com/news/ebola-virus-liberia-apologises-to-nigeria/) He also said that the people who had come in close contact with him were under observation. Now, that’s where I got a bit confused.
I have a few questions:
1. How long was Sawyer in the country before going to the hospital?
2. A doctor and a matron are dead, having been involved in his primary care before his death. 5 more people are sick and in quarantine. Are these people only hospital staff? Should we be worried about another focus of infection, i.e. ECOWAS staff that were in contact with him. Is there a different quarantine plan in place?
3. How do u try to prevent someone from traveling, over something as serious as Ebola, and the person ‘sneaks’ out of the country? I’m assuming he should have been under observation.
4. When it was discovered he had ‘snuck’ out, what was done by the Liberian government to immediately alert the Nigerian government on an incoming risk to her population?
Questions and more questions! I could go on…
Appalling ignorance and mass hysteria..
I went to church on Sunday and at mass, the priest made a joke. He said ‘I’m a Tiv man, I like rat meat’ and the church erupted with shouts of ‘Ebola! Ebola!’ I was amazed and I turned to the woman beside me and said ‘but Ebola is not carried by rats’. She said ‘ahh, it is o! Even elephant meat! In short, every animal for bush’
I almost asked her if elephant meat was a staple in her diet. Or if she has ever seen elephant meat. I held my peace. There is indeed a viral haemorrhagic fever that is spread by rats, it is Lassa fever and we had an outbreak recently. Ebola is not spread by rats.
Since the threat of Ebola became real to us, I have heard all sorts of interesting theories as to its spread, prevention and cure. The funniest one though, was the one that spread like wildfire in the early hours of today. I got a call from my dad at 6am this morning. He’s at a youth conference and someone called him to announce to the youth that they should drink some warm water with salt and also have their bath with warm salt water before the sun rises, to prevent Ebola. He didn’t understand the relationship, if any, between the sun, salt and warm water. I assured him that it was probably a prank and went back to bed. I woke up a short while later to see social media agog with people saying that they received similar calls and they can’t believe people actually did it. I’ve been hearing stories of hypertensive patients and people on salt-restriction who started guzzling salt water before daybreak today.
The religion of ‘broadcasting’ and expensive jokes…
I have come to believe that some people purchased their blackberry or android phones, or are on social media for the joy of ‘broadcasting’, also known as ‘BCs’. We have all gotten those ridiculous messages; ‘send this message to 10 people and God will bless you. Ignore, and God will punish your generation’ or ‘send this message to 5 people and you will get a Sunday after a Saturday, ignore and you will get 5 weekdays after a Sunday’ (yeah, some are really ridiculous).
Some BCs are useful; job vacancies, interviews and the like. But I really have a problem with unsubstantiated BCs like the one above, about salt and warm water. Unfortunately, many people don’t even stop long enough to verify the authenticity of the BC they have received, just forward and forward, to as many people as possible. Whether that message originated in Nigeria or not (like the BC about a kidnapped child that I received last year. The number to call was not even a Nigerian number), whether the news that is being broadcast is an ongoing occurrence or as stale as last year; the BC in May that fulani herdsmen were killing people along Benue-Abuja road actually happened in 2012!
These are trying times, but we should not further compound matters by spreading rumors we have no business spreading. If you must send a BC, at least try to confirm its veracity (yeah, you can BC the link for this post!)
After all said and done, a lady came online to confess and apologize that she started the ‘salt + warm water Ebola prevention therapy’ as a joke.
Words fail me. We say that Nigerians joke about everything (Chibok girls, Ebola e.t.c), but I would think that we would know where to draw the line. She conceived the joke in her heart, sent it to her friends and with their help, sent the whole country into a frenzy. I feel that people should have been a bit wiser as not to be taken in by this story, but I’m sure she’s not laughing right now.
And must we embellish stories? By the time this story filtered back from Adamawa, it had become a T.B Joshua prophesy.. na wa for Nigerians!
And is everything your pastor says ‘… every word that proceeds from the mouth of God’? Does even the Bible not instruct you to ‘test every spirit?’
The Conspiracy theorists..
By now, we all know that ‘America will know’. Even about this Ebola outbreak. If I believe everything I hear from this group of people, I will believe as follows:
1. Ebola is a western invention to decimate Africa.
2. America quickly developed a drug because their citizens have been infected.
3. America is hoarding said drug because of point 1.
And the one I read this morning, which is very interesting..
4. ‘It is important to note that the world did not address the Ebola thing before it got to Nigeria; WHO was not too concerned. It is all about money. Who was going to sponsor the research and the production of the drugs. Hence they had to get Nigeria into it. The Liberian was intentionally sent into Nigeria to get her into the whole issue. Now immediately the guy infected a Nigerian, the world started talking about. It has now become a big issue. Thus, Nigeria will foot the bill for the other West African countries. Just watch and see. For me, the guys entry into Nigeria was planned by the Liberians to make us sponsor and lead the eradication of the disease.’
If that line of reasoning doesn’t surprise you, nothing else will!
I don’t know what to say to this group, but are these theories bringing us closer to a solution? If the answer is no, can we move on???
1 – A viral illness
Ebola Viral disease is a viral haemorrhagic fever caused by the Ebola virus. It is named after the Ebola river which is a river in Congo, first thought to be near the village where the first outbreak occurred in 1976.
It is a viral haemorrhagic fever because it is caused by a virus and causes the patient to bleed from almost all parts of the body, both internally and externally, in the final stages of the illness.
Other viral haemorrhagic fever causing viruses which present just like Ebola include Lassa fever virus, Dengue fever virus, Hantavirus and Marburg virus.
2 – Method of spread
The natural reservoirs of Ebola virus are fruit bats and African monkeys. Which means you can contract it by eating poorly cooked meat of these animals. It is then spread from human to human by contact with the body fluids of an infected, acutely ill individual.
Now, this needs a little more explanation because the incubation period of Ebola virus is 2 – 21 days. This is the period from when the virus enters the body and when the first symptoms appear. So the patient becomes infectious when he becomes acutely ill. However, because the initial symptoms are non-specific, such as headache, sore-throat, fever, joint pains, stomach pain and diarrhoea symptoms that could be mistaken for malaria, the person will be dangerous to the unsuspecting people around him who are not taking adequate protective measures.
3 – Preventive measures
Hand washing with soap and water kills the virus. The virus is susceptible to soap and bleach, which contains chlorine. So a lot of hand washing with at least soap and water is encouraged. Many people carry hand sanitizers, but most sanitizers are anti-bacterial. Which means they may not be effective against a virus.
There is no cure – yet.
To date, there is no treatment or vaccine yet for Ebola virus (No, ‘Professor Iwu kolanut’ does not work). Mostly because the virus kills very fast. The drug being tried in America is an experimental drug that has only been used with some limited success in monkeys. It has not been tested in humans and the side effect profile is yet unknown. Prevention is still our only hope, and a high index of suspicion.
The epidemic has flourished in Liberia and Sierra Leone because of superstitious beliefs, people hiding their sick relations and trying witch doctor remedies.
Be informed. Spread the word.
Be careful, wash your hands.
Agatha Aduro, is a Medical Doctor. She lives in Abuja, Nigeria.