Many of you may be worried about Ebola Hemorrhagic Fever, a heartbreaking disease that has taken many lives in West Africa. The disease seems to prefer tropical climates, but many missionaries are (or were) in such places. And many missionaries are in places that have unsanitary conditions. I would like to share a few thoughts that may be helpful.
For nearly two decades I have been living the Word of Wisdom strictly (although the word “strictly” seems confining and doesn’t fit the feelings of freedom, simplicity, and improved health this doctrine has brought me). Here is what I have been taught and what I believe to be true about zoonoses (zoh-ah-NO-seez); I invite you to prayerfully consider these things, do your homework, be observant, and use your own common sense.
Ebola is an zoonotic disease, one passed from animals to people. The first article linked above says, ““The virus is killed when meat is cooked at a high temperature or heavily smoked, but anyone who handles, skins or butchers an infected wild animal is at risk of contracting the virus.”
- A zoonosis is any disease or infection that is naturally transmissible from vertebrate animals to humans. Animals thus play an essential role in maintaining zoonotic infections in nature. Zoonoses may be bacterial, viral, or parasitic, or may involve unconventional agents. As well as being a public health problem, many of the major zoonotic diseases prevent the efficient production of food of animal origin and create obstacles to international trade in animal products. – World Health Organization
1. The first thing we need to understand is that food is political. The government subsidizes the meat and dairy industries, and there is cross-employment and cross-influence among agencies and agribusiness. There is also a desire not to cause panic or interfere with markets. Did you notice “obstacles to international trade” in the definition above?
2. The pathogens that cause disease live in the warm, dark, and moist bodies of animals and humans. They cannot survive in fresh air, sunshine, or dryness; they do not live in plants or plant foods. They like human bodies because humans are the only “animals” on the planet who operate at 98.6o temperatures. All animals are either above or below that internal temperature, making the pathogens less active and less harmful. At 98.6o the pathogens “mature” and become most active. They also eat more dead human cells and defecate more, releasing greater amounts of corrosive and toxic waste product. It’s those waste products that do the damage.
3. These pathogens are passed around easily in body fluids, but very seldom in the air – otherwise our hospitals would be as full of sick doctors and nurses as they are of patients.
4. No veterinarian would ever touch an animal’s raw flesh or body fluids with his bare hands. He would wear gloves. He would not touch anyone or anything else with his hands wet with flesh or fluid, gloved or not.
5. No doctor would ever touch your raw flesh or your body fluids with his bare hands. He would wear gloves. He would not touch anyone or anything else with his hands wet with flesh or fluid, gloved or not.
6. Anyone who gets paid to handle food must take a Food Handlers class in which they are taught how to protect the public from food-borne illness that come in animal foods. They are taught to wear gloves and not to let raw animal flesh or fluids cross-contaminate other foods.
7. Why has nobody bothered to warn you that in your own kitchen you should not touch raw animal flesh or fluids with your bare hands? Nor should you touch anything or any person if your hands have raw animal flesh or fluids on them, gloved or not. Also, you must keep raw meat and juices away from other foods to avoid cross-contamination (don’t let your packaged meat drip into the salad in your refrigerator).
8. This is the hard one: do not put any animal flesh or fluids into your mouth, even at the dinner table. Remember that pathogens lurk in warm, moist, dark places where there is flesh and fluid for them to eat. Don’t invite them to dine on yours.
9. The Utah State University Extension Service website has some food handling instructions. Read them thoughtfully. The University is an agricultural college, and they try hard to make food safe, but they also want you to buy meat and dairy. Here is a poster from the World Health Organization.
10. Milk is an animal fluid. Cheese is highly concentrated animal fluid. That fluid is designed in the exact formula the baby animal for whom it is intended will need. The mother cow’s milk is not the right formula for the human baby (or the human adult). In fact, cow’s milk may well be the most dangerous food of all.
If you want to know more about milk, go to Jane Birch’s article on Meridian Magazine, What About Dairy and Eggs? You might want to take Jane’s advice and “try going for a month without them.” (The Utah State website used to point out that bacteria double in 20 minutes at room temperature. Think of cereal bowls and baby bottles.)
I hope you will teach your children, especially your missionaries, to wear gloves when they cook raw meat, and to not cross-contaminate anyone or any other food, If they must eat meat they should make sure it is extremely thoroughly cooked.
If zoonotic diseases do work as described here, the doctor and nurse who have been brought home to America to be treated for Ebola are fortunate; they have a great chance of survival and there is little danger to the rest of their treatment team who are being very careful about body fluids.
That still leaves a lot of people in Africa at risk. Unfortunately they won’t know that the problem may be in their food supply. (The bat may be well cooked, but how protected was the person who prepared it?) Hundreds have already died, including two members of our church. I find this very sad.
If infected people crossing our southern borders can infect others through airborne transmission, then Ebola becomes our plague too — and then “unrestrained government” may become an even worse problem.
If the Ebola plague is contained, there will certainly be other plagues in our future. Let this one be our warning.
The Word of Wisdom ends with a promise. Who executes that promise? If plagues come in the winds, then we are all mere victims being acted upon, dependent upon Divine intervention of some sort for protection. If plagues come in foods that we have chosen not to eat, then we are agents, freely acting, exercising our gift of agency in following the Giver’s directions. A portion of Divine intervention has already happened through those scriptural warnings. We benefit in the form of physical strength and spiritual growth, first from the act of choosing obedience and second by the actions of doing the hard work of obedience. Whether we live or die is ultimately in God’s hands, but what matters most is what we have become and where we are found working when the Savior calls us home.