USA Ebola cases double. Media goes nuts, and still misses the point

The Pediatric Insider

© 2014 Roy Benaroch, MD

Technically, it’s true: the prevalence of Ebola infection just doubled in the USA, as news spread that a nurse in contact with the first case in Texas has come down with the disease. Technically, that’s not true. The first man died, which dropped the prevalence of Ebola to zero, then it went back up to one. But let’s not split hairs. The total cases just went from 1 to 2, which is a DOUBLING! Clearly, it is time for panic.

No, it is not. Ebola remains difficult to catch, requiring direct contact of either broken skin or mucus membranes (eyes, nose, mouth) with infectious fluid from a victim. And victims don’t become contagious until they’re sick, which explains why the planeload of passengers who accompanied Mr. Duncan from Liberia remain healthy. The people at the most risk aren’t you, or your children—unless they’re healthcare workers, and, really, unless they’re working in West Africa.

That’s where the tragedy is, and that’s where the international community needs to concentrate its resources. Until the epidemic is stopped in Sierra Leone, Guinea, and Liberia, a few cases are going to trickle out and potentially spread to a handful of people wherever they end up. The next case could be in Baltimore or Santiago or Moscow—but, as long as there’s a reasonable health infrastructure, cases can be identified and contained. It takes legwork and money and a grinding, relentless attention to detail, but it can be done. I doubt fancy-pants new vaccines or medicines are going to make much of a difference, here. This one’s got to be surrounded and defeated by old fashioned record keeping and case tracking and isolation by people right there where the action is.

Back to the unfortunate nurse in Texas: The CDC has blamed the spread on a “breach of protocol”. That’s an awkward, weird phrase—and it strikes me as odd that the director of the CDC, Dr. Tom Frieden, would so blithely blame the staff there. Dr. Frieden himself is an internist and infectious disease specialist, and he is no dummy. Any smart doctor knows you never toss your nurse under a bus. It may just be the jet lag talking, but I think there is more to this story, and more to this “breach”.

Stay tuned, though if you’re smart you’ll disregard the media blowhards. Ebola is a huge problem, and a huge human tragedy, but it’s still not something to panic about.

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One Comment on “USA Ebola cases double. Media goes nuts, and still misses the point”

  1. miloumartel Says:

    I am glad you’ve addressed this. I’ve been following your blog for a while and as a mom of 2 young children, I appreciate your no-nonsense approach to the topics you discuss.

    This one has me particularly fired up when I read what is being said in the media and hear about our government (I’m in Canada) spending millions of dollars to have quarantine agents stationed at airports across the country. I think this is purely an emotional response to the problem – because people are so worried it’s going to affect them here in North America – rather than a logical one.

    It seems like such a waste of money, money that could be used to treat this horrible human tragedy at the source, where it is most needed.

    Like


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