Incidence declines in some districts in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone while ‘steep rises persist’ in others
team of funeral agents who specialize in the burial of victims of the Ebola virus carry a body in Freetown last month. The World Health Organization has released a new manual on safe Ebola burial practices. (Florian Plaucheur/AFP/Getty)
At least 20 per cent of new Ebola infections occur during burials, the World Health Organization said in issuing a new funeral manual developed by an interfaith panel.
Ebola infections can spread when family and community members perform religious rites that involve directly touching or washing a corpse that continues to contain high levels of the infectious virus.
The guidelines released Friday are part of the UN health agency’s efforts to reduce the likelihood of Ebola transmission. It includes advice to health workers for “dignified burials” in the Christian and Muslim context.
“It is clear from Islamic juristic ruling that the necessity of religious washing of the body before burial of patients who die from Ebola is overruled,” Rehanah Sadiq, a Muslim chaplain with University Hospitals Birmingham NHS Foundation Trust who served as consultant to WHO, said in a release.
Sadiq suggested that health-care workers offer safer alternatives, such as give relatives the opportunity to view the body and to be involved in digging the grave.
The new guidelines also recommend that mattresses and other items handled by the Ebola patient be burned.
Separately on Friday, the WHO said 13,268 cases of Ebola have been reported in the eight currently and previously affected countries, including 4,960 reported deaths, up to the end of Nov. 4.
“Case incidence is declining in some districts in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, while steep rises persist in other districts,” the report’s authors said.
“Intense transmission in the three most affected countries demands widespread rigorous control measures. Preparedness in unaffected neighbouring countries is also critical.”
More Ebola treatment beds needed
The WHO report noted a total of 549 health-care workers are known to have been infected, including 311 deaths.
The agency said early indications are that many of those infections occurred outside of Ebola treatment and care in the three countries with the most intense transmission, Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone.
It added that exhaustive efforts continue to increase the supply of personal protective equipment as well as training on how to don and doff the gear to minimize possible risk.
Of the 4,707 Ebola treatment centre beds that WHO estimates are needed in the three heavily affected West African countries, only 22 per cent are currently up and running. The WHO said one of the biggest obstacles to opening more beds is lack of skilled staff trained in infection prevention and control.
In the U.S., where there have been four cases, including one death, public health officials announced they’re increasing a national stockpile of Ebola protective gear for U.S. hospitals.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said it has ordered $2.7 million US in personal protective equipment (PPE) that will be distributed into 50 kits that can be rapidly delivered to hospitals.
“We are making certain to not disrupt the orders submitted by states and hospitals, but we are building our stocks so that we can assist when needed. Some of these products are not normally used by hospitals for regular patient care,” Greg Burel, director of CDC’s Division of Strategic National Stockpile, said in a release.
Elsewhere, the WHO reiterated that quarantining travellers arriving from Ebola-affected nations can create “false impression of control” and may have a detrimental impact on how many health-care workers volunteer to help contain the outbreak.