10.15.14

Comment rescue: Ebola & American overconfidence

Posted in Bioterrorism, Culture of Lickspittle at 2:05 pm by George Smith

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

I’m going to assume you know most of the statistics. Two cases among health workers, nurses, in Dallas who tended patient zero, who was once turned away from the hospital while symptomatic. The second nurse traveled, when she should not have been allowed to and returned by airplane.

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

But 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 who are 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.

What if Ebola virus escapes into a teeming urban center in India? Or Indonesia? Bangladesh? Lagos in Nigeria? Karachi in Pakistan? Any other place with a lot of poor people and spotty health care and resources for infection control? You can’t quarantine the world.

Can this country handle a few people a month who are infected coming in on airplane flights from the African continent?

I don’t know.

The government health officials continue to say it can’t happen here.
But what happens if someone slips through again into a poor neighborhood or a homeless population during flu season? Do they get discovered and isolated before they infect a few more?

This isn’t Liberia or Sierra Leone. But no one can say yet how it’s going to turn out with total confidence.

In 1977, Peter Piot discovered the Ebola virus. Last week, the Financial Times spoke with him:

The collapsing health systems of Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea mean that many cases probably go unrecorded; the real toll could be far higher. Even the least alarming projections suggest there will be more than 20,000 cases by early next month. Looking further ahead, the worst-case scenario from the US Centres for Disease Control foresees 1.4m cases in west Africa by late January. Prof Piot says that while such dire predictions must be treated with caution – “like the ones in the 1990s that had everyone in Britain coming down with the human form of mad cow disease” – he is frightened. “There is a very real danger of a complete breakdown” in parts of west African society, he says.

Piot told the FT he “became very scared” in “late June” upon seeing the escalation of the outbreak.

The paradox here is that the US government only became interested in the Ebola virus and funding research on it after the start of the war on terror over concerns, unfounded and unrealistic, that it could be, ahem, used as a weapon on the homeland.

In the past week, news has been common how slashed funding at the NIH had impeded work on it.

Bioterrorism research funding has also been tapered. Additionally, it has been argued for years that the funding for bioterror research was never going to be effective, that the money would have been better spent in general research on the control of global infectious disease.

It has, and will be pointed out again, that Ebola outbreaks thrive in places of great inequality. That is, where there is no sufficient infrastructure or resources to apply to the poor populations where it takes hold.

And that is certainly the case in West Africa. The US military most likely cannot solve this problem with 4,000 troops and one hundred makeshift tent hospitals.

Mark Zuckerberg’s 25 million won’t do it, either. Ebola virus doesn’t conform to social media or wizards of the Silicon Valley.

1 Comment

  1. Major Variola said,

    November 3, 2014 at 11:29 am

    Famine, plague, war, or birth control. Choose. I guess you have.
    –Malthus.

    Too late. Game over.

    The West will begin mining african harbors and cratering the airports so
    nothing can leave. They will landmine the jungle. Anything that leaves
    is sunk or shot. Snipers sans Frontieres. Quarantine with extreme
    prejudice.

    Civilization is a choice. Make it. Soon.

    Or don’t, and the population goes back to the under-billion level
    before the West started feeding everyone…

    When EBV hits India, no more tech support, no more outsourcing!

    When it hits LA, no more traffic or expensive real estate.

    We can hope it its DC first.

    Ebola is the cure for overpopulation; napalm is the cure for ebola.