Ebola: The Real Danger

What Is the Biggest Danger Connected with the Ebola Virus?

For once, hospital dangers are less than the real danger–government over or under-reaction in the event of an outbreak.

Ebola, along with other hemorrhagic fevers,  is one of eight quarantinable diseases by Executive Order (see Sidebar).

This means the U.S. government (Barack Obama) has the legal authority to quarantine individuals suspected of harboring the virus based solely on symptoms like fever. As knowledgeable sources point out, this risks throwing people who do not in fact carry the virus but have some other cause of fever in with truly infected individuals, leading to more exposure. Conversely, as has already happened, people arriving on international flights from African nations where the disease is endemic may be hastily screened by perhaps poorly trained staff (because a widespread screening effort probably would soon overload existing capabilities) and then released into the general population.

The general pablum currently promulgated by the CDC and complacent media focuses on how difficult it is to pass on Ebola and prominently notes that the disease is not even communicable until a patient shows symptoms. Since the primary focus on symptomatic evidence has been on the hemorrhagic nature of the disease, this leaves the impression in the casual reader that as long as someone is not bleeding seriously from various orifices, there is no danger.

Contrast this with what a British doctor directly involved in treating patients in Sierra Leone says about symptoms. As reported in the UK Mail Online, Dr. Oliver Johnson notes, “What is shocking is how healthy the patients look before they die and how quickly they decline. A number of the Ebola patients I’ve seen look quite fit and healthy and can be walking around until shortly before their deaths.”

Other comments include: “We’re now in a perfect storm,” Laurie Garrett, said, describing the United Nations World Health Organization as bankrupt, and drowning in debt. Garrett went on to say, “There is no strategic plan for how this epidemic will be brought under control.”  [Reported on the Huffington Post.]

The same term, “perfect storm,” was also used to describe the Ebola outbreak Thursday by the director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, Dr. Tom Frieden, in testimony before Congress. Frieden also told Congress  that it’s “inevitable” that someone with Ebola will get on a plane and fly to the United States, risking an outbreak here.

If you look beneath all the assurances, you must harbor at least some doubt about what the government is saying, For example, as Dr. Jane Orient, M.D., a practicing physician in Tucson, Arizona, and member of Doctors for Disaster Preparedness notes, “When people in space suits are telling you ‘oh don’t worry, there’s no danger of this spreading,’ they have no credibility.”

The real problem is the U.S. government tends to be reactive rather than proactive towards crises, which has been proven over and over in our history. To get some idea how Washington might deal with an Ebola outbreak, look these responses to questions on a survey of healthcare workers in 104 hospitals in 14 states conducted in 2009:

Does your membership perceive the facility to be ready to respond adequately to a flu pandemic?
Ready for most things = 33%
Ready for some things – 29%
Ready for just a few things – 17%
Not ready at all – 17%

Has the facility provided training to workers on pandemic flu?
Yes – 43%
No – 57%

How much confidence do you have that this situation has improved in five years? If there is as little planning now for a relatively simple flu outbreak, what are the chances that a real outbreak of Ebola or another deadly epidemic could be handled?

“In fact, the CDC’s current guidelines as of July 30, 2014 for treating Ebola in U.S. hospitals require only gloves, goggles, a facemask and a gown in most situations. The same document says, “[Health care personnel] may continue to work while receiving twice daily fever checks, based upon hospital policy and discussion with local, state, and federal public health authorities.”

While the actual guidelines seems quite detailed, this blogger’s experience with actual hospital competence leaves me in considerable doubt that hospitals on a local level could deal with a serious outbreak.

As a final note of cheer, while the evidence is not completely established, it seems fairly likely that the vector (animal source of Ebola) and the reservoir (animal source of continuing existence of the virus) is three different types of fruit bats, native to sub-Saharan Africa. These are: Hammer-headed Bats (Hypsignathus monstrosus), Epauletted Fruit Bats (Epomops franqueti), and Little Collared Fruit Bats (Myonycteris torquata).

At this point, at least, none of these are found in America except possibly in zoos, where one hopes there are no chances of escape to the wild. Even if a male and female did escape, one would think they would not be harboring any of the hemorrhagic viruses.

In any case, we should have confidence in the CDC when they tell us there is no danger. After all, they have such a good track record with anthrax containment, right?