A Chaplain’s Perspective on Ebola

For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands, for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control. 2 Timothy 1:6-7 ESV

The media panic has begun. Better than a hurricane or the dreaded “polar vortex,” every news station in town last night documented the orderly (and legal) transfer of a nurse with the Ebola virus to the NIH Clinical Center for treatment. One station had the hashtag “FactsNotFear” but then went to a live shot of a breathless, wide-eyed reporter explaining that “some people” were upset to have an Ebola case in their community.

After all, many of the people who work at the National Institutes of Health take public transportation! There’s a Metro stop right beside the campus! Buses from all over the county stop there! Montgomery County has Ebola!


As a healthcare chaplain, and someone who trained at the NIH, I have a few opinions. 😉 Let’s break it down a little…

1. The NIH is well-suited to treat and contain infectious diseases.

Not only do they have state-of-the-art medical care, they have immunologists, epidemioloists, geneticists, and infection control experts who know how to maintain a safe clinical environment for patients, families and employees. They isolate, treat and develop best practices on disease management.

In 2011-2012, there was an outbreak of the antibiotic-resistant bacterium Klebsiella pneumoniae, a so-called “super-bug.” A patient came to the Clinical Center for treatment, bringing the disease with her — from a New York hospital. The bug spread, and out of 18 patients, 11 died. According to their own studies, 6 of the deaths died from the infection itself, and 5 died as a result of their underlying condition. These patients were not healthy individuals, but were among the sickest seeking experimental treatments for their underlying diseases. Their immune systems were compromised.. And NONE of the patients were employees or family members. Using genome sequencing and care infection control practices, the cases decreased.

Not just anyone can visit the NIH campus. You go through a security checkpoint unless you have a keyed ID badge which allows you into specific parts of the campus. If you drive on the campus, even with an ID, your car/bags are checked. (Think airport security without taking off your shoes and doing the body scan hokey-pokey.) If you don’t have an invitation or a reasons to enter the campus, you don’t get on it. (Case in point: Reporters had to stick with aerial shots of the campus last night, as no one could get close to the ambulance and its accompanying motorcade.)

Therefore… There is no risk to the general public. There is no risk to the employee population at the NIH.

Deep breath, people. Moving on…

2. Ebola is not as contagious as other viruses already prevalent in our world.

Take a look at this graphic from NPR:

Credit: Kansas City Public Media
Credit: Kansas City Public Media

Think about it – there are vaccines for mumps and measles. People choose not to immunize. They are generally at higher risk for getting measles and mumps than Ebola. No, vaccines, don’t “prevent” you from getting the disease. But they do decrease your chances with something called “herd immunity.”

You are at greater risk of getting HIV than Ebola. This of course is mitigated somewhat by understanding how the virus is transmitted and decreasing risky behaviors. I have every confidence that the same will be true for the Ebola virus.

3. Use your noggin. If you are sick, stay home! See your doctor if you have risk factors that suggest you could have been exposed to Ebola.

It’s common sense that if you have a fever, nasal congestion or vomiting, that you should not travel. Or go to work. Or to school.

But I can promise you that on any given day, there is a kid who has a snotty-nosed virus in class who should have stayed home in bed. Attendance is taken, and heads roll if you miss too many days. (Even on the college level, students can lose credit for a class if they miss too many days.)  Conversely, there are awards for “perfect attendance” — an award that should be banned.

It’s true of those in the workplace, too. We all know (or have been) that worker who has the flu but goes to work out of fear of retribution. Yes, they know they are probably infecting others, but they go anyway. They cough, bark, snort and sniffle their way through the day. A couple days of isolation would be a good thing, but we punish those who follow standard infection control procedures.

4. Wash. Your. Hands.

If you don’t know how, look up a video. (There are many available on line.) Soap and water, friction, time and using paper towels are simple things. Be wasteful. Use more than one paper towel. (And please forget that TED talk guy who insisted you only need 1 towel. He does not know what he’s talking about. When I showed it to one of my colleagues who is an experienced infection control nurse, she about had a stroke.)

If you prefer to be really sure that you won’t get the flu or another viral infection, here’s a simple solution:

(Sarcasm font off.)

In all seriousness, this is simply not something that should cause panic. Go wash your hands and hug the people you love. And as Douglas Adams would say, Don’t Panic. And carry a towel.

C'mon. Say something! But play nice. All comments are moderated.

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