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African funeral rites are 'superspreaders' of Ebola

31 October 2014, 07:13

Washington - Traditional funeral rites in West Africa that include kissing and touching a dead body are "superspreaders" of Ebola and must be halted, researchers said on Thursday.

If not, Liberia can expect 224 new cases per day by the beginning of December, and 348 new Ebola infections per day by the end of December, according to the study in the journal Science.

"To stem Ebola transmission in Liberia, it is imperative to simultaneously restrict traditional burials, which are effectively serving as superspreader events," it said.

Funeral practices often include washing, touching and kissing bodies that are still capable of transmitting Ebola, and may have particularly high levels of the live virus in excretions.

The findings were based on mathematical modelling done by scientists at Yale University, Oregon State University and the ministry of health in Liberia, the country hardest hit by the current Ebola epidemic.

Also Read: US envoy sees 'first tangible signs' Ebola will be beaten

"It is imperative that funeral transmission be stopped," said Jan Medlock, an assistant professor in the OSU Department of Biomedical Sciences and an expert in mathematical epidemiology and the evolution of infectious disease.

"The cultural body preparation and funeral practices that are common in West Africa have driven the initial spread of this disease."

The virus has already infected more than 13 000 people in West Africa since the beginning of the year and killed almost 5 000 according to the World Health Organisation.

Ebola is spread through close contact with the bodily fluids of an infected person or a person who has recently died of the virus.

While it is important to isolate patients, trace their contacts and provide better protection for health care workers, these measures alone are insufficient, the researchers said.

Every two Ebola cases currently result in the infections of three more people in Liberia, the study found.

A better way to safely bury the dead would be to disinfect "the cadaver before placing it in a plastic body bag and doing further disinfecting," said the study.

The authors also called for substantial international aid to help end the outbreak.



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