10.01.14

Classic American overconfidence and disease

Posted in Culture of Lickspittle at 2:27 pm by George Smith

With the arrival of one Ebola virus case in Dallas and the sick person’s story so far, we’re about to see if the it-can’t-happen-here talk that’s been prevalent is warranted.

The United States is not exceptional. And it is particularly unexceptional in its health care, especially when the stakes are high. With regards to public health, the poor, the average, anyone not considered entitled and special, have been allowed to fend for themselves, often until it is too late.

Ebola virus infection in American may collide with that reality.

From the New York Times today:

DALLAS — Health officials in Dallas are monitoring at least five schoolchildren in North Texas who came into contact with a man found to have Ebola virus, after he became sick and infectious.

The authorities also said that an early opportunity to put the patient in isolation, limiting the risk of contagion, may have been missed because of a failure to pass along critical information about his travel history.

The story also informs of that the infected man was sent home for two days while he was showing symptoms.

More alarmingly, it makes the case that the sick man contracted the virus from contact with the sick daughter of his Liberian landlord, when he helped carry her. The woman subsequently died and two other people who had come in contact with her were also killed by the virus.

“Mr. Duncan came in contact with at least 12 to 18 people when he was experiencing symptoms,” reads the newspaper. But which is it? Is the number right?

None are showing symptoms, which — in any case — will take a little longer to emerge, reads the newspaper.

There are no hospitals like this singularly unfortunate place in Sierra Leone, where the virus is completely out of control.

But that doesn’t mean American health care can’t screw up royally, as it often has, out of neglect, passivity, indifference and greed, in well-documented ways. Indeed, it is fortunate the American health care system has not heretofore come in contact with a disease like Ebola [1], where it can’t quite track all of those potentially exposed and know precisely when they became symptomatic and infectious.

These are unknowns. No amount of bravado changes that.

“This is all hands on deck,” said Texas governor, Rick Perry. This alone is almost cause for alarm. And that is only because, if you are a betting man, you would take into account that Perry has a record of always being spectacularly wrong.

“[The information that the infected man had just come from Liberia] was not used in the clinical diagnosis and Mr. Duncan was sent home, with the diagnostic team believing he simply had a low-grade fever from a viral infection,” reads the Times. “He was rushed to the hospital in an ambulance two days later, his condition having significantly deteriorated …”

Many in the Fair Oaks community around the hospital in Dallas where the Ebola-infected man is in isolation are “skeptical” of reassurances by the Centers for Disease Control, concluded the newspaper.

What happens when someone who is infected just doesn’t get to the hospital, even once?

Time will tell.


In 2008, an American woman on vacation in Uganda brought what appears, in retrospect, to have been a relatively mild infection due to the Marburg virus back to Colorado. She was committed to a hospital for mild fever, diarrhea and complications of initially, unspecified cause. Possible diagnoses of leptospirosis or viral hepatitis were considered and abandoned.

Marburg virus is a somewhat less lethal relative of Ebola virus.

The CDC account of the case, which she survived, is here.

Marburg virus infection was diagnosed post-convalescence.

2 Comments

  1. Floormaster Squeeze said,

    October 15, 2014 at 10:07 am

    I knew you were right about this but all hell is breaking loose now:

    http://www.dallasnews.com/news/metro/20141015-in-statement-nurses-at-presbyterian-dallas-describe-confused-response-to-ebola-case.ece

    Everyone is blaming everyone. Hospitals are so busy spinning and doing damage control that they left the (not-dying) nurses nothing to do but speak up.

  2. George Smith said,

    October 15, 2014 at 11:21 am

    People make mistakes, they screw up. And this is one disease that leaves little room for error with an outcome that’s appalling.

    Americans can’t resist the urge to overstate their abilities. They can just never shut up and concede it’s a very tough situation in which they’ll suffer setbacks with grim consequences.

    Diseases surprise. This variant of Ebola seems more virulent than past strains in that there appears to be a lot more of it fulminating in those infected.

    And the infection curve is still going up in West Africa. What happens if, like the WHO says, it reaches 1000 new infections a week by December?

    That’s the making of a Biblical calamity in which everyone who can starts running away. Can this country handle a few people a month who are infected coming in on airplace flights from the continent?

    I don’t know. The government health officials say they can but they don’t know for sure. What happens when someone slips through again into a poor neighborhood during flu season? Do they get discovered and isolated before they infect a few more?

    This isn’t Liberia, of course. But no one can say yet how it’s going to turn out with 100 percent confidence.