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Liberian Cremation Policy May Prevent Hospital Visits

2014-10-29

According to an Associated Press report on October 24, in Liberia a policy of mandatory cremation was established in order to control the spread of Ebola through unsafe burial practices.  This policy has allegedly led to abandonment of the hospital facilities in Liberia.  Patient’s families are so afraid of cremation and not being able to know where their loved ones are buried that they are avoiding hospitalization and burying them secretly.  As a result, Ebola treatment centers are only half full.  In contrast, in the other two countries affected, cremation is not mandated, and hospitals are full.

Secret burial without everyone involved falling ill is possible in part because three out of four people infected with Ebola are asymptomatic.  This means that an epidemic will certainly end before a quarter of the people become sick with Ebola.  If the mortality rate is fifty percent, then at most one eighth of the population will die.  In addition, it has been noted that serially transmitted virus becomes less and less virulent until it disappears after five generations.

These factors suggest that more nurses may have been infected with Ebola than just the two who became symptomatic, further impugning the isolation precautions that were taken in Dallas.

It appears on further examination that the Ebola epidemic will eventually burn itself out, but there may be major uncertainties in counting the victims, especially in Liberia.

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