Tuesday, October 28, 2014

The Real Ebola Epidemic

Let's look at some facts.

1) The current Ebola outbreak began last December in southern Guinea, when a 2 year old boy contracted the disease, likely from a fruit bat or perhaps consuming bushmeat (monkey), altho no one can be certain. Since December 2013, 5,000 people have died from the disease, nearly all of them in west Africa.

2) On March 24, 2014, Doctors Without Borders (Médecins Sans Frontières, or MSF) opened up a treatment facility in Guinea. At that point, 59 people had died, and a further 30 or so had contracted the disease. Shortly after, MSF began soliciting volunteer healthcare professionals to work in their ever-expanding facilities. Generally, a volunteer will serve about 8 weeks on a tour. This means that dozens if not hundreds of people have been to the hot zone and returned without incident.

3) Indeed, the first case of Ebola appearing on American soil was Dr. Kent Brantly, followed quickly by Nancy Writebol, both contracting the disease in Liberia this fall, both treated and recovered. Since then, three other Americans have been evacuated to the States and have recovered. None infected anyone else. This includes the freelance photographer Ashoka Mukpo, who worked closely with an NBC news crew that included Dr, Nancy Snyderman (more about her later).

4) The first death from Ebola on US soil occurred in the case of Thomas Eric Duncan.  Not only was his case fatal (and mishandled all around) but he managed to infect two nurses caring for him: Nina Pham and Amber Vinson. Both have recovered.

5) A fourth diagnosed case of Ebola on American soil (Duncan, Pham and Vinson being the first three) occurred this past weekend when Dr. Craig Spencer returned from Guinea and became ill, but not before appearing in public, taking public transportation and engaging in some social activities, including bowling. He may even have sweated a little.

And now we get to the real epidemic over Ebola. You'll notice that for the better part of a year, doctors and nurses had traveled to and from the outbreak with nary a peep from anyone.

And then came Ken Brantly, and it seemed as tho spontaneously our own hot zone had sprung up. Despite the fact that evacuation protocols for a known Ebola case had been put into motion, despite the fact that we've handled worse epidemic outbreaks on American soil (hantavirus springs to mind) and contained diseases, the handwringing fem the diaper-clad set began, fomented in large part by the true epidemic of 2014, FOX News.

The fact that Dr. Nancy Snyderman, upon learning that her cameraman, Mukpo, had contracted the disease promised to self-quarantine for 21 days and then very publicly breaking her own promise, didn't help. FOX, sensing a chance to get a leg up on a competitor, made hay while the sun shined on Dr. Snyderman.

Turning the heat on the panic up a lot. You see, Snyderman returned in early October, just days after the Duncan case was blared around the headlines, including his transmission to Nina Pham.

Never mind that Snyderman didn't contract the disease. Never mind that Duncan didn't infect his family, with whom he shared close contact for the better part of a week. We now had a transmitted case of Ebola on American soil and a celebrity doctor flouting her own rules (and to be sure, perhaps she shouldn't have made a promise she wasn't going to keep.)

The panic that these two incidents created should have been a wake up call to MSF to alter their guidelines for returning volunteers to be acutely aware of the very real epidemic of panic that had been whipped up in the States. By all accounts, for instance, Dr. Spencer followed the guidelines existing at the time for monitoring, except that he rationalized a sluggish feeling as jet lag as opposed to getting to a hospital or doctor immediately.

That he then took a very public form of transportation -- the NYC subway -- and engaged in some socializing after two months in the bush made his case almost automatically a scare headline.

And we Americans will panic at the drop of a hat. Just ask any ammosexual: after six years of Obama's presidency, they still have all their guns (and many more) but swear they will be taken away.

We really are children. Colleges have revoked acceptances of African students, Syracuse University barred an appearance by a Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer who had returned -- three weeks earlier and Ebola free -- from the region, and Harvard has imposed stern limits on students and faculty from traveling to West Africa. A school in Cleveland was shut down and disinfected after it was learned a staffer was on the same flight as nurse Vinson. Parents in Mississippi, which suffers from a far worse epidemic of ignorance, threatened to keep their kids out of school after it was discovered the principal had traveled to Zambia, 3,000 miles from the nearest Ebola outbreak.  A Maine teacher was put on 21 day paid leave just for visiting Dallas for a conference.

And then there's this...

Panic will kill more Americans than this disease. Mark my words.