Have you thought about Ebola lately?
Probably not. If you have, it’s most likely because U2 and dozens of artists have just recorded a new version of the original 1980’s Band Aid charity song “Do they know it’s Christmas?” to raise money for Ebola victims. THAT’S IT! IT’S OVER FOR NOW! Not so fast.
Ebola (for now…never say never) has remained squarely an African problem, and one month after the massive Ebola fear hype in the U.S., most Americans have returned to their pre-Ebola scare lives. Some of us have a few more sterile gloves and N95 masks than before, but that’s not a bad thing. An influenza pandemic is a far more likely scenario to affect us. There’s a great fiction book written by someone I know that explains exactly how that might happen. ;)
Did we beat Ebola? According to a Denver Post opinion piece, the U.S. beat Ebola. http://www.sltrib.com/opinion/1824674-155/ebola-africa-spencer-west-care-denver
Good news for everyone. Right? Of course, but this article falls squarely in the hindsight is 20/20 category, and fails to look forward. AT ALL. The opinion piece derides the fear that gripped the U.S., pointing out how the system in place worked. You know, the ten systems progressively implemented after the CDC and White House couldn’t answer why and how they couldn’t prevent individuals infected with Ebola from entering the U.S. to infect others (a very low number, thankfully.). The article even quotes Dr. Spencer (the infected NYC doctor), who stated:
“My early detection, reporting and now recovery from Ebola speaks to the effectiveness of the protocols that are in place for health staff returning from West Africa,” Spencer said. “I am a living example of how those protocols work and of how early detection is critical to both surviving Ebola and ensuring that it is not transmitted to others.”
The article fails to mention that Dr. Spencer, recently returned from treating Ebola patients, essentially ignored symptoms for two days while “painting the town.” Nor does the article point out that Dr. Spencer forgot (lied?) to mention his city-wide travels to health officials or the NYPD investigators assigned to track down others that may have been exposed.
Investigators pieced this together with his credit card statements and Metro card. Dr. Spencer sounds like the perfect candidate for imposed quarantine. Here’s a more accurate assessment of Dr. Spencer’s lucky break. http://nypost.com/2014/10/29/ebola-doctor-lied-about-his-nyc-travels-police/
THE GOOD NEWS. Dr. Spencer is right on one account. Early detection and treatment makes a big difference, as does being treated in the United States. I take solace in that, along with the fact that Ebola is low on the contagion scale. These two factors alone should ease our minds. Ebola would be a very difficult disease to propagate in the United States…THANKFULLY.
Does that mean all of the Ebola rhetoric and news coverage was fear based and nonsensical? No. It got fairly heated and political, which is never a good thing. Especially with the safety of our citizens at risk. The quarantine question became purely political. Here’s the ONLY question that needed to be asked:
Is it worth quarantining and inconveniencing a few hundred healthcare workers to save one life?
I pose this question for one reason. The only way to guarantee 100% that Ebola didn’t spread beyond a “self-quarantined” healthcare worker is to enforce their quarantine. I can count four healthcare workers in the U.S, with direct contact with Ebola patients that thumbed their noses at the idea of quarantine. Statistics and a little luck kept them from infecting others, and possibly killing them. Low numbers kept that ONE LIFE intact. If the number of healthcare workers returning to “self quarantine” increases, statistics will claim a victim. Who will it be, and how will you feel about it? I can tell you this, inconveniencing a few hundred healthcare workers is worth saving my wife’s, son’s or daughter’s life. I wish more people had thought of that before jumping on the political bandwagon and deriding a more stringent quarantine option.
But Steve, imposing quarantine is not science based. That’s a fear based reaction with no basis in science.
If by science, you mean “what the CDC tells us?” I agree. But that’s not science. Science involves the search for knowledge—and never taking absolute statements seriously.
Here’s a quote from my local newspaper, celebrating a judge’s decision in Maine to override the state’s request that a local nurse remain in quarantine at her home. “They” refers to the governor’s office:
“They could have made the following points to address the fears and direct attention to the real threats, not the imagined ones:
• You can’t catch Ebola from someone who doesn’t have it. Hickox was exposed to people with the virus, but she has been tested and found healthy.
• You can’t get Ebola from someone who is not symptomatic. Hickox has had no fever, vomiting, diarrhea or any of the other signs that she is sick. These symptoms are hard to miss, and as a nurse, she is capable of monitoring herself and getting treatment if necessary.
• You can’t catch Ebola through the air, like a cold. The reason it is an epidemic in some countries is that they have a shortage of medical personnel as well as inadequate sewer and water systems, exposing the population to the bodily fluids of people who are infected.”
HOLY $#@! Batman, absolutism at it’s most dangerous. So, according to the article’s author, he or she would feel completely comfortable letting someone who recently treated Ebola patients (in a front line treatment center in Africa) babysit their infant after a single ebola test and a little temperature monitoring? How about if they were allergic to cats and started sneezing? I call B.S. on that, BUT ONLY BECAUSE I’VE DONE A LITTLE DIGGING.
Here are a few articles to shed some new light on this newspaper’s absolute statements:
1.) You can’t get Ebola from someone who doesn’t have it. No kidding. So a test is proof positive that you don’t have it? That was the basis of the Maine nurse’s argument. I’ve been tested and don’t have it. Bugger off, I know better. Hmmm.
Now, he had symptoms, which she didn’t…but that makes it even worse! You can have Ebola symptoms and not test positive. But we already knew that. The scientific community already knew that.
2.) You cannot catch Ebola from someone who is not symptomatic. Really? That’s interesting, because the top scientists that study…I don’t know…Ebola, don’t feel so sure about that statement. Why listen to them? I mean, just because you won a Nobel Prize for “work researching the cellular subsystem of the body’s overall immune system — the part of it that defends the body from infection by other organisms, like Ebola” doesn’t mean you might be able some light on the topic. Right?
I’m sure a scientific article in the New England Journal of Medicine is utter rubbish too. So what if 13% of Ebola victims (in the current outbreak!) never had a fever, the hallmark of symptoms for Ebola…and were full of virus!
The Lancet also supports this FACT.
3.) You can’t catch Ebola through the air. Well, it’s not “airborne” in the traditional sense of the virology term, but I wouldn’t want an Ebola patient sneezing in my face, unless I was wearing a positive pressure Biohazard Level 4 rated suit. I shouldn’t have to link to articles to prove this, because Ebola is a virus, and if a virus enters your bloodstream (through many mechanisms), it does what all viruses do. Replicates. But there’s debate about this, because some would like to believe you have to stick yourself with an Ebola infected needle or accidentally ingest a quart of infected blood to get infected. Here is the quick version from the New Yorker article (written about the geneticists trying to find a cure…smart folks I suppose).
“The virus is extremely infectious. Experiments suggest that if one particle of Ebola enters a person’s bloodstream it can cause a fatal infection. This may explain why many of the medical workers who came down with Ebola couldn’t remember making any mistakes that might have exposed them. One common route of entry is thought to be the wet membrane on the inner surface of the eyelid, which a person might touch with a contaminated fingertip. The virus is believed to be transmitted, in particular, through contact with sweat and blood, which contain high concentrations of Ebola particles. People with Ebola sweat profusely, and in some instances they have internal hemorrhages, along with effusions of vomit and diarrhea containing blood.”
Guess what, it’s also in your spit, urine and semen…it’s everywhere in your $#%! body. It’s a virus. If you sneeze on a door knob, and someone touches the door knob within a few hours, then rubs their eye—they CAN get EBOLA! Not likely, according to the statistics, but frankly, they have no idea how most people actually “got” the disease. That’s why most of the medical doctors can’t remember the mistake they made…it’s not clear cut in many cases. Yes, they are working directly with patients, day in and day out, which increases their chances of exposure dramatically, but they often don’t know. It’s not like one of the doctors said, “I reached over for my drink without looking and accidentally guzzled infected blood. My bad.” Don’t take my word for it.
The next articles comes right from the World Health Organization website. I believe what they say. Coughing and sneezing is not a likely transmission source because these are not common symptoms in an Ebola patient. Ebola is not a respiratory disease. However, respiratory disease is not the only reason we cough or sneeze. I sneeze several times a day, quite randomly. I cover my mouth (even alone in the house), but not everyone is so polite.
BOTTOM LINE: We appear to have dodged the Ebola bullet for now, and hopefully forever. The disease is still still running strong in Africa, so we haven’t seen the last of it here.
Trust me on that. Let’s just hope the ABSOLUTISM and POLITICS takes a back seat to SCIENCE. Maybe with the elections behind us, there’s hope for that ONE innocent victim sitting in a bowling alley, riding the metro, handing change over a counter, or opening a public door with their child. Until then, take advantage of the lull to assess your pandemic readiness.
If you want to dig deeper into pandemic preparedness or general disaster readiness, check out my latest book (co-authored by Randy Powers) Practical Prepping: No Apocalypse Required.