How to Survive in Liberia: Chlorine, No Touching

But most Liberians don't have such luxuries, writes Lenny Bernstein
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted Oct 3, 2014 10:48 AM CDT
How to Survive in Liberia: Chlorine, No Touching
Gordon Kamara is sprayed by Konah Deno after they loaded six patients suspected to have been infected by the Ebola virus into their ambulance in Liberia on Sept. 30, 2014.   (AP Photo/Jerome Delay)

When Lenny Bernstein volunteered to go to Liberia to cover the Ebola outbreak last month, most of his friends and family thought he was crazy. Literally. A college buddy said, "I think you're out of your f---ing mind," Bernstein recalls at the Washington Post. Other journalists, however, offered simple advice: "Follow a few rules and you'll be fine." For one, no touching, writes Bernstein, who touched two people during his 12 days in Liberia. Once, he simply forgot handshakes were taboo; the second time, fearing his thermometer was busted, he asked a colleague to touch his forehead to check for fever. In treatment centers, Bernstein encountered even stricter rules: No touching anything. (Studies say the virus can survive on surfaces for up to two days.)

Another practice Bernstein following religiously: using a virus-killing chlorine-water solution. A Gatorade-like keg of it sat outside his hotel for hand-washing; a separate trough was there to dunk shoes. "We also carried it in spray bottles in our car and used it liberally," Bernstein notes. "Maintaining that constant vigilance is mentally taxing." You're bound to mess up, which Bernstein did: He placed his hand on the railing leading into a treatment center. "I spent a while at the chlorine keg, rubbing the liquid into my skin." But for most Liberians, "no touching" is an impossibility. "They press tightly together, front-to-back, in bus stop queues," he writes. "They jostle and crowd at food distribution sites. They handle their own dead. They play a daily game of Russian roulette with their very lives." Read his full column. (More opinion stories.)

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