Ebola crisis prompts readiness responses

Infographic on Ebola from the CDC

Infographic on Ebola from the CDC, which has more information here.

As anyone following the headlines knows, there’s a serious outbreak of Ebola in West Africa. The World Health Organization is calling Ebola hemorrhagic fever an “extraordinary event” serious enough to be an International health emergency. According to a WHO statement:

“The possible consequences of further international spread are particularly serious in view of the virulence of the virus”

Countries around the world, including the U.S. and Canada, are reassuring their populations that experts are on alert and stand ready to contain the danger.

Here’s one such recent article from the CBC titled: Ebola outbreak: How Canada’s prep has ‘lead the world’:

“I’m not concerned. I already know that Canada is prepared,” said Jason Tetro, a microbiologist and author of The Germ Code, who recently penned the blog entry Canada, Don’t Worry About Ebola in the Huffington Post.

The assurances are even coming out on local levels, as with this response plan for Ottawa.

As a believer in Murphy’s Law, I sort of wish those assurances came with greater caution and humility. (As the skit from Monty Python puts it: “Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition!“) But, inappropriate levity aside, I do worry about the trap of hubris.

Yes, yes. Canada and the U.S. typically have far better resources to prevent outbreaks and improve the outcome against these challenges. Canada feels it gained regrettably-useful experience in 2003′s severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) outbreak – better ways to identify, isolate and treat contagion. No deaths were attributed to SARS in the U.S. during that outbreak. There were over 40 SARS deaths in Canada, primarily in Toronto. (Some sources say 43, others 44.)

In the U.S., the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has this FAQ on safe management procedures for potential Ebola cases that sounds pretty straightforward. (Small aside: Ebola is named for the Ebola River and as such should be capitalized.)

But there is such a thing as underestimating the so-called enemy. Consider: for all the supposedly superior standard procedures in Canada and the U.S., hospitals here have had enormous difficulty in containing other stubbornly persistent problems, such as C. difficile.

Still, there is a valid question of proper perspective. Ebola is a serious, frightening disease, and real people are dying of it right now. But it’s also getting lots of media hype, according to this hysteria-debunking essay by Michael Fumento, who has made something of a career as a de-bunker:

This is only the deadliest outbreak of Ebola Virus Disease because past ones were so tiny. At this writing, there have been 1,711 reported cases in Africa and 932 deaths. That’s too many. Still no suspected cases that didn’t originate in those four countries and mortality rate remains 55 percent.

But every day about 600 sub-Saharan Africans die of tuberculosis, and contagious diarrhea claims the lives of 2,195 children, the vast majority of them in sub-Saharan Africa. Malaria kills twice as many people each day as Ebola has been killing.

Toss in syphilis, AIDS and lots of other diseases that routinely kill more people than Ebola is right now.

And, should Ebola come to America, it’s vanishingly unlikely to “break out.” Ebola is a lazy spreader. Even a cough or sneeze or sweat from an “active” case is harmless. Spreading the virus requires contact with large doses of bodily secretions such as blood or vomit.

Maybe there’s just a collective fear that the black death of medieval times wasn’t a one-off. That humans are periodically visited by diseases they can’t initially control, like the terrible flu pandemic of 1918-19. We carry the boogie-man of sudden, mass death in our subconscious. A primal dread that’s easily ignited.

Still, do you think we’re getting better at facing new threats, fully prepared? Or are we usually fighting the last medical war, fully ripe for new lessons?

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6 Comments on “Ebola crisis prompts readiness responses”

  1. Michael Greer says:

    In an orderly society, where everyone was as clever and careful as say…Lucy Martin for example, we’d have little to worry about. Lucy, or I, or most other readers here probably know how to be safe, maintain proper hygiene, and avoid exposure. On the other hand, we can probably all name someone who doesn’t. There are people in my own neighborhood who have none of the sense that “God gave a goose”, and whose continued existence can only be attributed to luck. All of the well trained medical personnel in the world can’t prevent the stupid from being stupid, and the crackhead down the street, the heroin user around the block, and the woman with a house full of cat shit are ready to transmit at a moment’s notice.
    We won’t get Ebola from the patients at Emory University…it will come in through the back door with a drug dealer, human trafficker, or underpaid house maid, and going public won’t be the first thing on their minds.

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  2. Pete Klein says:

    As a great philosopher once said, “What? Me worry?”
    But seriously, there is no reason to worry unless worrying is one of your favorite hobbies.

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  3. Just for context, the Ebola outbreak at present has killed somewhere around 1000 people (all in countries with weak health care systems). By contrast, 30,000 Americans die EVERY YEAR in road accidents and another 30,000 in gun-related incidents. So let’s try to keep this in perspective.

    (Incidentally, even in Africa, malaria, AIDS, TB and, yes, road accidents kill far more people)

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  4. Ebony says:

    We must all understand that viral infections can be tricky and mutate as they spread. I am tired of listening to those who say ” Canadians or Americans should not worry about Ebola. Its not that hard to catch” Really????Is that why its spreading around the world like wild fire and almost a 1000 people have died. I hate the cockiness of these individuals. You cannot predict what a virus will or will not do. Wake up and smell the roses. This outbreak is spreading around because no one seems to understand that in order to contain it, you must close the borders and ban air travel. There is now an outbreak in Benin, Togo, and Nigeria, Saudi Arabia now a suspect case in Ontario, but hey…..its not that hard to catch right?

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  5. Ken Hall says:

    As pointed out in the article: “Even a cough or sneeze or sweat from an “active” case is harmless. Spreading the virus requires contact with large doses of bodily secretions such as blood or vomit”. It would therefore appear that the fear of a potential Ebola outbreak in North America is being propagandized for unknown reasons by who knows who; perhaps the MSM, the government, the Tea baggers, ., .? I find the human penchant to harbor irrational fears such as being eaten by sharks, bears or whatever few remaining carnivores there are on Earth, other than humans, or killed by exotic yet rare diseases while blithely ignoring the far greater potential for harm to themselves or loved one from human aggression and the multitudes of diseases brought about by the pollution of the air, water and soil which sustains all life on Earth, as a function of our voracious greed, to be indicative of a myopic view of life in the extreme.

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  6. knuckleheadedliberal says:

    Well, in the Walking Dead everybody IS from Georgia — near Emory Hospital. Just sayin’…

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