At least, I hope they are. The alternative is they are clueless, and that is a much scarier proposition. Perhaps lying is too strong a word. Perhaps ‘hedging their bets’ is more appropriate. However you term it, What is known about the facts and dangers is still evolving. Listen carefully to even the most reassuring statements coming out of CDC headquarters and you will hear the contradictions, evasions and qualifiers on their assurances.
Even though the disease is classified by the CDC and the WHO as out of control in Africa, there have only been 4,000 or so deaths with just over twice that number of infections, so what’s the big deal? Besides. we are talking about places with nearly non-existent health care, at best poor hygienic standards, primitive burial practices and rampant superstition, all of which are conditions that do not exist here.
When the WHO and CDC say Ebola is out of control and virtually uncontrollable, they are also admitting that in many areas, the true infection and death rates are unknown. There simply aren’t enough personnel in the right areas to accurately assess the situation. The numbers, 4,000 dead and 8,700 infected are the official counts only. Some estimate the true toll to be three to four times that low-ball number.
They also say, as a reassurance, that this disease has been out of control but it has not yet significantly migrated out of the worst hit areas. Again, this is not very reassuring when all the facts are taken into consideration.
First, and the one thing that every expert agrees is the best course of action, travel into and out of affected areas has been severely curtailed where it has not been completely stopped. One of the reasons this has been possible is we are talking about a population that is at best only regionally mobile. The average citizen of Liberia, Sierra Leone or Nigeria does not have the means to travel internationally. A passport and visa, which are quite expensive when they can be had legally and even more so when the necessary bribes are taken into consideration, is simply out of reach of the majority of the population.
Next up is the fact that armed troops have sealed international ground crossings. If someone does make it across a border in a remote area, chances are very high they will succumb to the virus before they can reach a major population center. The prediction is, there will be thousands of bodies found in wild, remote and untenanted areas when this is all finally over.
In the cities, there are already unconfirmed and unconfirmable reports of literally thousands who are sick or already dead in the slums. Again, there simply aren’t enough personnel who can safely go into these areas where mistrust of the government is rampant to monitor the situation, much less do anything about the dead and dying. The residents won’t report the bodies, for fear that government forces will simply come in and bull doze the area flat, taking away the little shelter and possessions they have.
All these are factors that the CDC and WHO, if they acknowledge them, use as proofs of their argument that it can’t happen here.
The part the CDC isn’t talking about much, or at least wasn’t before this week, is the number of health care workers who have died. When they did, it was mainly to explain that sufficient PPE (Personal Protection Equipment) protocols weren’t available or followed. Now that a nurse in Texas, who had all the right PPE has become infected, the statement is “…there was a breach in protocol…”
That quote, complete with ellipsis, has appeared in news reports everywhere. Yet, neither the CDC nor the nurse can pinpoint when or where that breach occurred. In other words, a highly skilled professional here in the West can succumb to this disease as a result of a slip up so minute, it can’t be recalled or identified. Yet, we are assured Ebola is hard to catch.
While issuing these reassurances to the general public, the CDC has doubled down on other warnings. For weeks, airlines have been told to issue face masks to any passenger with respiratory symptoms. Because droplets from the nose or mouth can contain the virus. Yet, we are told again and again Ebola is not airborne.
Ebola is constantly being compared to HIV/AIDS, because transmission requires bodily fluids. However, there has never been a case of a person catching HIV/AIDS from a doorknob, something the CDC calls an unlikely possibility with Ebola but still has issued warnings about. The caution has been put out because it is not known, for sure, how long Ebola can survive on surfaces.
Despite the fact that Ebola has been known for thirty years and is assumed to have been around for centuries if not longer, there is still a whole lot unknown. Part of the reason for that is there have been several different strains studied, each with it’s own infection, transmission and fatality rates. And at least two of the strains were airborne though there has been no confirmation that this particular strain is; in fact, the assumption and best knowledge at this point says it’s not. At least not yet.
One of the biggest fears about this strain getting loose in the US is that it will do what viruses do better than nearly every other living thing on the plant: adapt. Viruses mutate as a matter of survival. We here in the US have both exposure and antibodies to a host of viruses, bacterium and other organisms Ebola never encountered in West Africa. The simple truth is, no one knows what Ebola can or will do. The scary truth is, we may just find out.
The CDC, WHO and others are doing all they can to minimize the potential for panic. Public panic may be the least of their problems.
In all of the differences between what is going on in West Africa and what could happen here, there is one commonality that is cause for concern: mistrust of the government. Here in the US, the CDC and official government statements have been very careful to qualify what they say is, can and cannot happen. Hence, an overuse of the words ‘unlikely’, ‘probable’, ‘potential’ and other similar hedging statements.
One of the issues I’m doubting anyone planned for is what is going on in the online comments in many news stories about the two cases in Texas. Some feel that because the nurse is being given treatment with an Ebola survivor’s blood, a treatment not given to Patient Zero is some sort of proof this disease was man-made, designed to kill black people.
I’d like to field this one on behalf of the CDC and government, neither of whom I necessarily trust either. The difference between the two patients isn’t racism, it’s altruism.
Patient Zero knew he was exposed, lied so he could travel on multiple airplanes and didn’t care who he potentially exposed. It’s not his fault he contracted the virus. But, this nurse’s infection is his fault. If there is only a small amount of a potentially life-saving treatment, don’t waste it on the person who cared only about getting himself the best treatment, give it to the person who tried to save his life.
If Patient Zero did get that small, available amount of survivor’s blood, think of the message that would send, of what other people who knew they were exposed would do to get here.
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