Ebola Spreading Quickly in Africa? It’s the Culture, People!

We have all heard on the news for months about the spread of the epidemic of the Ebola virus in Africa.  Right now, numerous conditions have all come together to increase the likelihood of this hemorrhagic-fever virus continuing its deadly progress.  The virus was originally found in wild animals in Africa (bats, monkeys, other mammals), with people living in close proximity to the forests and jungles being the most at risk.  This risk increases when the people kill and eat “bushmeat” derived from those forest and jungle creatures.  Tribes all over Africa are just one minor step away from the jungle.  And their cultures remain not-quite civilized.  They are far away from whatever central government exists in their countries, with few, if any, modern services available to them.

The people living in Ebola-stricken areas try not to have to admit that their relatives died of this dreaded illness.  People with symptoms are often cared-for in their homes, under the ministrations of family members.  This, of course, puts all those family members at high risk of contracting the virus.  They refuse to give up such customs as washing the bodies of the deceased, and touching them at funerals; since the corpse of a person who dies of this disease is highly contagious, the disease spreads.  And in some places, families try to bribe members of health-care teams to give a death certificate that lists something else as the cause of death; this leads to under-estimates of deaths.  Families that have private cemetery plots may be burying their dead in unsanitary ways that may contribute to transmission. It is hard to get poor, rural people in poor countries to give up their age-old culture and practices, but it may be necessary, if these diseases are ever to be stopped.

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