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First U.S. Ebola case confirmed in Dallas

Dr. Jim Denison is a cultural apologist who helps people respond biblically and redemptively to the vital issues of our day. He is also the co-founder and Chief Vision Officer of the Denison Forum, a Dallas-based nonprofit that comments on current issues through a biblical lens.

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A sign outside the main entrance of Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital in Dallas on Walnut Hill Lane, the site of the first reported US case (Credit: AP/Tony Guiterrez)

It was inevitable that an Ebola case would surface in the U.S., but I didn’t expect the first patient to be in my own community.

Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital is in north Dallas.  I have visited patients there often over the years.  When news broke that the first U.S. Ebola patient was at Presbyterian, my first response was one of surprise.  My second was one of fear: does this signal an outbreak here?  Imagine that the first patient was hospitalized in your community—how would you feel?

A press conference confirming the Ebola diagnosis was held Tuesday afternoon, but did not disclose the nationality of the patient.  We do know that the patient flew to the States from West Africa, and that he  was admitted to the hospital based on symptoms and recent travel history.  He has been held in “strict isolation” since.  The director of the Dallas County Health & Human Services assures us that health officials are ready: “This is not Africa.  We have a great infrastructure to deal with an outbreak.”

If you live in my community, you may be asking how you can get the virus.  The answer is that Ebola is much harder to catch than the flu or similar illnesses.  It is transmitted through close contact with the blood, secretions, organs or other bodily fluids of a person or animal that is infected.  Burial ceremonies are especially dangerous, as the victim’s body is even more contagious after death.  Men who have recovered from the disease can still transmit it through their semen for up to seven weeks after recovery from the illness.

Can you catch the disease from someone without knowing it?  People with Ebola may not be symptomatic for two to 21 days, but they are not contagious during this incubation period.  Ebola symptoms are a sudden onset of fever, intense weakness, muscle pain, headache, and sore throat.  These are followed by vomiting, diarrhea, rash, impaired kidney and liver function, and sometimes by internal and external bleeding.  If you do not come in close physical contact with a person exhibiting such symptoms, you are unlikely to become infected.

The good news in America is that any hospital here is able to house and treat an Ebola patient safely.  While we are likely to see more Ebola cases as people travel from infected areas, we have the health care infrastructure to respond as needed.  The bad news is that such infrastructure is tragically lacking in much of West Africa, enabling this disease to continue its spread.

What spiritual lessons can we learn from yesterday’s announcement?  First, we will all die of something unless Jesus returns first.  We all have spiritual Ebola, the disease of sin (Romans 3:23), and “the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23).  Jim Morrison noted in one of his songs, “No one here gets out alive,” a fact he proved by his untimely death.
Second, a vaccine for spiritual Ebola is available.  Anyone who asks Jesus to forgive their sin and become their Lord receives eternal life in that moment.  Jesus promised that believers “will never die” (John 11:26).  When we take our last breath here, we take our first breath there.  We step from time into eternity and from death into paradise.

Third, we who have survived spiritual Ebola are the best people to help others survive.  As Ebola survivors are immune to the disease, so Christians are immune to eternal death.  It is our honor and responsibility to share our cure with the world.

The first American Ebola patient is in my community, but spiritual Ebola patients live in yours.  How will you bring them to the Great Physician today?