Co-Discoverer of Ebola Virus Says That Catholic Nuns’ Unclean Needles Were Responsible For the First Outbreak October 5, 2014

Co-Discoverer of Ebola Virus Says That Catholic Nuns’ Unclean Needles Were Responsible For the First Outbreak

Der Spiegel has an interesting and scary interview with Peter Piot, a medical researcher who was on the team that investigated the world’s first known Ebola outbreak, in 1976, and gave the illness its name.

Piot recalls how Ebola made its first wave of victims. Missionary Catholic nuns spread the disease through a stunning disregard for medical protocol:

“In their hospital they regularly gave pregnant women vitamin injections using unsterilized needles. By doing so, they infected many young women in Yambuku [in the Congo] with the virus… I can still see the Ebola patients in Yambuku, how they died in their shacks and we couldn’t do anything except let them die.”

The medical profession knew as early as the 1870s that safely reusing needles requires sterilizing them. Even in Africa, where the overall standard of care is surely lower than in the West, jabbing pregnant women with a used, unsterilized hypodermic needle is pretty much the definition of medical malpractice. I could see doing it if the patient needed a potentially life-saving injection (and no sterilization method was available). Vitamins, however, can be taken orally.

You have to wonder whether the nuns thought they could get away with their flouting of proper medical procedure because they thought that they were under divine protection.

Either way, 280 people died.

(Image via Shutterstock)


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