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Expert says Ebola being spread in Africa because of such traditions as kissing corpses

The Ebola virus. Photo: Center for Disease Control/Wikipedia

The deadly Ebola virus. Photo: Center for Disease Control/Wikipedia

The Center for Disease control has just confirmed the first case of Ebola in Dallas, Texas. The critically ill person, who is in isolation at the Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital, came to the US eight days ago. This is the fist instance of Ebola arriving naturally and not through a person purposefully brought to the US for treatment.

The Ebola virus kills between 50% and 90% of the people who contract the disease. It symptoms include fever, headache, vomiting, diarrhea and a rash. It affects the liver and kidneys and causes internal and external bleeding.

Peter Piot works for the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. In 1976, he helped discover the first case of Ebola in the Congo. He is very concerned about the spread of the disease in Africa and says part of the problem is due to cultural practices.

He says:

There are very strong traditional beliefs and traditional funeral rites which require the whole family to touch the dead body and they have a meal in the presence of the dead body.

In addition, Piot says it is common for some to even kiss the dead body. If the person died from Ebola, the body is often still contaminated with the disease and it can be transferred to those who come in contact with it. He is working to try to change these practices.

However, because of the Law, Jews and even Christians have a very different interaction with corpses.

Clean, unclean helps fight plagues

Throughout the books of Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy, we have chapters dedicated to laws related to clean and unclean. Most of us roll our eyes when we read these verses, but I believe many portions of the law that God gave Israel were actually health related. The clean, unclean is an example of this.

The principle worked this way. Certain things (including select animals, corpses, etc) were declared unclean. Bats which the Bible lists as unclean are thought to be one of the ways Ebola is transferred to humans.

Rats also considered unclean are carriers of disease. Researchers believe a mummified rat on display at a museum in Cornwall may have carried the plague. The rat was discovered during renovations of an ancient building. The building/rat dated back to the 14th century during the time of the Black Death or Bubonic plague in Europe which was transmitted through human contact with rats.

If a person touched an unclean thing, they in turn became unclean. Any who touched the unclean person, became unclean as well.

Though invisible, this uncleanness could be transferred. This resulted in people avoiding anyone or anything considered unclean.

In Numbers 19:11-22, dead people were considered unclean. By rendering the corpse unclean, this effectively reduced the number of people who willingly came in contact with the body.

However, the body still needed to be buried  and this couldn’t happen without someone touching it. When that happened, the person directly involved in burying the body was declared unclean for seven days. Additionally, it added if a person died in a tent, anyone who went into that tent was declared unclean (v 14).

Anyone who came in contact with a dead body was essentially put in quarantine — isolated and kept away from the main population. It was effectively an incubation period and if the person picked up a disease off the corpse, the symptoms would show themselves.

The Israelis didn’t realize this is what they were doing, but this was the result.

It was serious stuff because if anyone did not follow through with the practice of clean and unclean, they “defiled the Tabernacle of the Lord”  and were cut off from Israel —  basically given the boot (v 13).



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