Rose Akello was the first to fall ill. The 38-year-old mother had a high fever, accompanied by unusual bleeding; she died and was buried in her wretched village of Gulu in northern Uganda. A two-week-old daughter died within another day, followed in two more days by Rose's teenage daughter and finally, by her husband, Alfred.
Ebola was back.
Hemorrhagic fever begins with flu-like symptoms. It's caused by a virus of unknown origin and spreads alarmingly easily through contact with an infected person. The virus attacks internal organs as it progresses, literally causing them to partially dissolve so that its victims bleed to death.
The worst of horrors threatened Uganda-and who knows what other part of the world in this one-community globe?-when Ebola broke out in the district that borders the one in which Rose and her family lived. Fears were inflamed when a case showed up in the southwestern part of the country, transported by a 20-year-old infected soldier returning to his home.
As we go to press, the death toll nears 100. Thankfully, the World Health Organization (WHO) announced on November 6 that they believed the outbreak to be under control. The WHO cannot declare it over, as 281 infected people remain under supervision. (In past outbreaks in Sudan, Gabon and the former Zaire, the death rate was between 53 and 88 percent of those infected.) The virus has an incubation period of up to 21 days, and the outbreak will not be declared over until a 42-day period has passed with no new cases appearing.
Control is attributed to the rapid and thorough response from the Uganda government, WHO and hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of international aid. Not only do humanitarian motivations stir the international community to respond, but also the sober awareness that transmission of this terror could be rapid and wide.
Journalists borrow the term apocalyptic from the Revelation prophecies when they report on such nightmarish illnesses. Revelation 6:7-8 warns: "When the Lamb opened the fourth seal, I heard the voice of the fourth living creature say, 'Come!' I looked, and there before me was a pale horse! Its rider was named Death, and Hades was following close behind him. They were given power over a fourth of the earth to kill by sword, famine and plague [disease], and by the wild beasts of the earth" (NIV).
Jesus also foretold of "famines, pestilences [plagues of disease], and earthquakes in various places" (Matthew 24:7) at the end of the age of mankind.
This time, it appears that the plague didn't get out of hand and will be contained. How long will it be before it-or other diseases equally devastating-cannot be held back? ( Reuter's, Times Newspapers Ltd. )