Thursday, October 16, 2014

Ebola Choices - Stage II

The big news the last 48 hours has been the new American victim of Ebola, nurse Amber Vinson, the second such "domestic" infection case recorded, since the arrival (and demise on Oct 8) of patient Thomas Eric Duncan. Nurse Vinson flew to Cleveland that same day, then flew back to Dallas, already (at that point) showing signs of illness.

Now, the Centers for Disease Control are trying to control the outbreak by reaching all the passengers who were on both flights, and all those she may have come into contact with. The planes used in both flights continued in service after she rode on them, so there is even some concern for the passengers and crews who used those planes afterwards.

Ebola is clearly a persistent and highly contagious disease. Even for those who follow routine procedures, infection is a considerable risk. Handling anyone who has an active infection, or even anything they may have touched, is very risky business. Looking at the people who deal with the disease, wearing their white "spaceman" (or beekeeper) suits with air masks, is reminiscent of the nuclear clean-up crews in Japan.

Back when the outbreak in West Africa was first being reported, there were immediate calls for quarantine. The CDC, and our government, pooh-poohed the notion of travel restrictions, telling everyone that generic "symptomatic" screening would be effective, and that there was zero risk of infection to Americans, even with native Africans traveling freely between African nations and major American airport cities.

Diseases are opportunistic life forms. Given the right conditions, they can spread rapidly among species, and can become almost unstoppable if steps are not employed to cut the links to exposure. Ebola has a so-called 21 day "incubation" period, meaning that you may not even be aware that you've become infected for two weeks or more, days in which your movements and contacts, limited or extensive, may be impossible to accurately trace. In our highly mobile world, with people moving and interacting constantly with one another, using the same transit and appliance systems, infectious diseases have a distinct advantage, even if the method of transmission is limited to physical contact (not airborne).

I advocated strict quarantine procedures when I first heard about the crisis, suggesting that we should limit incoming traffic to Americans only, and placing them all on 21 day quarantine upon arrival. We heard the same circular arguments against this, that we'd become accustomed to with the immigration crisis. We were told that it was "impossible" and therefore could not be done, while being told (at the same time) that it was "unfair" and "a restriction upon freedom" and therefore "should not be done" on principle. Either we couldn't because we couldn't or we shouldn't because we shouldn't. Neither argument sounded intelligent to me.

There are difficulties involved in controlling a spreading disease. But with an incurable, deadly bug like Ebola, what other choices do we have? Whereas our initial choice included keeping infected individuals OUT of the country, now that we have the disease INSIDE our own borders, we've had to retreat from the airports to the cities and towns and travel corridors that the disease is now following.

I'd like someone to explain to me why this "unfortunate" but well-nigh inevitable progression would not better have been handled with greater emergency than it was. Had we taken steps to prevent the arrival of native Africans from the infected countries, and to see to it that whoever was let in was tracked strictly for three weeks, I doubt this new domestic health crisis would ever have happened.

It was another case of politically correct complacence in the face of a dire threat that we were simply too lazy and impractical to address. Yes it is true that we're only talking about three individuals here, but Bengazi was only a handful of people too. We're always ready to jump to conviction when the "enemy" is a man or a gang or an army. But when the enemy is a virus or a bacteria, the issue is the same. Before the disease arrived, we were comforted by the assumption that our hospitals could handle any unlikely case; but now we're hearing just how ill-prepared and vulnerable our health facilities are to deal with a disease like Ebola.

We deserve better from our government--and better from our health care system.

RESTRICT ALL TRAVEL BETWEEN THE INFECTED COUNTRIES AND THE U.S. IMMEDIATELY. Don't count on "screening" or "symptoms" identification. Limit the movement of humanity to the region where it's known to be active.

If we fail to control Ebola through movement, we'll end up having to fight it in our living rooms, school rooms, busses, trains, planes, restaurants, arenas, offices--in short, in every place where people congregate or live.

1 comment:

Ed Baker said...

WE'RE .....D O O M E D !

only them Zobies will survive
to re-populate the world.

what the Sci Fi
guys have been writing

is now happening ?