Some backgrounds: My wife works in an ER. I’ve been around medical professionals my entire life. I work with quite a few in my professional life.
With that in mind, here’s why I’m not panicking over yesterday’s announcement of a confirmed case of Ebola in Dallas.
1) I’ve had time to mentally prepare.
It’s been clear for months that a diagnosis of Ebola within the United States was going to happen sooner or latter. The world is too flat to prevent it, short of shutting down international travel entirely.
Also, given my background, I’ve been absorbing everything I can about Ebola the last few months. This potentially hits very close to me.
So, knowing it was was coming means you have time to prepare for the inevitable, both emotionally and mentally.
2) This particular situation is as good as it could be.
With Ebola, you are not contagious as long as you are symptomatic. It doesn’t matter if the people around you are immune compromised or completely healthy. No symptoms means you’re not putting out the virus, and no one can catch it from you.
The patient in Dallas did not have a fever when he left Liberia, and did not develop symptoms until he had been here four days. If they had developed the day after he got here, concern for the passengers on the plane might be warranted.
Certainly, there is concern for those exposed between when symptoms first developed and when he went into quarantine, four days later. It’s clear that the Feds are tracing his steps during that time.
In fact, the Dallas EMS crew exposed to the patient has tested negative. They are among up to 18 people currently being monitored.
3) Ebola is stable, for a virus.
As far as viruses go, Ebola is fairly resistant to mutation, especially for an RNA virus.
Certainly, the mutation risk is non-zero, but the likelihood of it going airborne is vanishingly small.
Somewhat more likely are other ways of it becoming more easily transmitted. For instance, say it were to become contagious a few days before symptoms began (like the flu).
This chance is still low, based upon the history of the virus, and not something you can worry about until/unless it actually happens. Let’s not make a bad situation worse, if we can avoid it.
The best thing we can do to prevent mutation is to stop the spread of the disease. More disease means more replication, which means more chances for mutation.
4) Announcing flight details would make things worse.
Within the media (both traditional and social) there has been considerable outcry for officials to announce what flight the patient came in on.
I very much disagree. These people are at no risk, and such an announcement would just induce panic, causing many problems of its own.
That said, the flight info will eventually get out to the public. But the more time that has passed until it does, the less time has to pass until the 21 day exposure window closes.
5) Our health care system is ready for this.
Discussions within our healthcare system about Ebola have been going on for months. Protocols for dealing with the problem came from the CDC some time ago, and have been reviewed and distributed to all first responders.
They’ve been running under an assumption that it was coming. I imagine most emergency rooms have had one or more cases that they worried could be Ebola. They already know what to do.
And, without doubt, most hospitals are having additional meetings on this today to remind everyone of the appropriate protocols.
But the simple fact is, they’re ready.
Our first responders are the ones under real risk from Ebola in the US. The public doesn’t have a whole lot to worry about.
6) The government actually is good at this sort of thing.
Those that know me or read this blog regularly know I’m a libertarian. In my opinion, the government could screw up a wet dream.
But the problems here play to their strengths.
The Feds need to keep the virus contained. Anyone who displays symptoms will be quarantined, until test results are returned.
And the Ebola patient’s steps need to be retraced. Anyone he contacted from a day or two before symptoms until he was quarantined needs to be contacted, tested and monitored.
These are things our government is pretty good at, and all indications are that they are happening already.
I expect they’ll stop this case of Ebola in it’s tracks.
What are the game changers?
The biggest change that would make things worse would be a mutation that allowed the virus to spread more easily. Obviously, that could be catastrophic, but isn’t something that you can address unless it happens.
A more likely change in situation would come if it turns out the government is lying to us about the situation. Say, for instance, he actually was symptomatic on the plane?
Obviously, the government has lied to us in the past, and will do so in the future. We’ve been told the last few months that there was no reason to worry about Ebola being diagnosed in the United States. That was bullshit, and was obviously bullshit.
But I don’t see any upside to the government in deception regarding the Dallas patient. Feel free to correct me in the comments, but I think we’re getting a pretty straight story here.
What can you do?
First of all, get your damn flu shot.
The early symptoms of the flu are not all that different from Ebola. If you develop the flu, you’re probably going to worry that you might have Ebola. Well, some of you will have such worries.
No, the flu vaccine isn’t completely preventative, but it’s your best bet. And, no, you won’t develop autism as a result of taking the flu shot.
I’ve gotten a flu shot every year for the last decade or so, and my brain still mostly works.
If you get sick with flu like symptoms, stay home. Don’t take it into work with you. But, to be honest, I’d give that advice with or without Ebola in the US.
And, if your asshole boss makes you go into work when you’re sick, don’t go up to him or her and intentionally cough in his or her face. That would just be wrong.
If someone in your household is sick, avoid contact with their blood and bodily fluids. Chances are they don’t have Ebola, of course, but you don’t want their flu either.
Wash your hands regularly. Good old fashioned soap and some elbow grease are your best bet. Alcohol-based hand sanitizers can help, but are useless against things like enterovirus.
So scrub, scrub, and scrub some more.
Go get medical help if you or anyone under your care has a fever of 101.5F or above combined with any of the following: headache, muscle pain, diarrhea, vomiting, stomach pain, or unexplained bruising or bleeding.
And while this is a decision everyone has to make on their own, I probably wouldn’t go to the emergency room unless I were really sick or injured (such as what I describe above), or had contributing factors such as immune system disorders.
And if/when I did go to the ER, I’d probably do my best to find my own corner of the waiting room. I’d especially avoid anyone who looked especially sick. Ebola drops on you like a ton of bricks. Anyone who is infectious, will probably look like it.
All of these concerns are increased if you’ve traveled from Guinea, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Nigeria or Senegal recently, or recently been around someone who has.