Ebola is 2014’s poster boy of viruses, stealing headlines every day as a new case or cure is revealed.
The overwhelming message for Westerners from health authorities is don’t be alarmed. Ebola, they say, is extremely difficult to contract, as it isn’t an airborne virus. Compared to West Africa, where the outbreak has claimed nearly 5,000 lives, we are blessed with a) the means by which to control the risk of contagion through better hygienic practices, and b) the ability to quickly contain any outbreak.
The situation in West Africa, however, is best summed up by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen last week in donating $100m to fighting the disease over there:
“I was in a town of about 10,000 people, and a shipping container with a rusty microscope was their medical clinic.”
And let’s face it, Ebola got off on a bad foot. When the first Western doctor to treat the disease landed in the Congo in 1976, a sign the nuns had posted on their mission fence warned:
‘Anybody who passes this fence will die.’
In Spain, they killed the dog belonging a nurse who brought the virus back with her on an executive order because:
“There is no guarantee that infected animals do not eliminate the virus from their body fluids”
In Texas, they didn’t kill the dog of a nurse who brought the virus home with her on the orders of Dallas mayor Mike Rawlings because:
“The dog’s very important to the patient and we want it to be safe.”
In Australia, they recently carefully slotted the fact that animals can carry the disease into the official calming lines for what to say after a suspected case arrives in hospital:
“The risk of infection is extremely low unless there has been direct exposure to the bodily fluids of an infected person or animal, alive or dead.”
– Queensland’s chief medical officer Jeannette Young.
But dogs eat dead animals, right? And, disgustingly, most dog owners happily let their pooches lick their face. Children certainly do.
Over in New York, where a couple of potential cases popped up in the past week, this quote from journalist Donald G. McNeil Jr. in The New York Times went viral among the Don’t Be Alarmed crowd:
“If someone ejected bloody mucus or vomitus onto a subway pole, and the next passenger were to touch it while it was still wet and then, for some unimaginable reason, were to put those wet fingers into an eye or mouth instead of wiping them in disgust — then yes.”
So transmission via subway could theoretically happen. McNeil was trying to be reassuring, but he obviously has never travelled on a Sydney train after 9pm.
And New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said:
“We can’t say this is… unexpected. he past few weeks we’ve been preparing for just this circumstance.”
Which could be read as reassuring (“We got this”) or alarming (“The spread of this disease is inevitable”) but Cuomo made it clear what side of the fence he’s sitting on 24 hours later:
“A healthcare professional who returns to this region who had exposure to infected people, or citizens who are returning … who had exposure to infected people … will be asked to remain in their homes for a 21-day quarantine period.”
Why not just take the North Korea solution, brought to us by Gareth Johnson of Young Pioneer Tours, a travel company based in China that runs tours in the DPRK:
“We have just received official news from our partners in the DPRK that, as of tomorrow, tourists from any country, regardless of where they have recently visited, will not be permitted to enter.”
So, do we need to be scared of Ebola or not? Peter Phelps is a New South Wales MP. He’s also a doctor, so you’d hope to expect some kind of officially stern hosing down after the second Ebola scare hit Queensland a few days ago.
— Peter Phelps MLC (@PeterPhelpsMLC) October 26, 2014
He says he was parodying the hysteria (and he was, quite excellently). But he’s an MP and a doctor, for glob’s sake, and it’s hard to see how mocking the hysteria by hyping the hysteria on Twitter does anything to help the paranoids keep a lid on the hysteria.
What a mess. Phelps is much better off toeing the official health line:
“It’s a very wimpy virus.”
– That’s US Center for Disease Control spokeswoman Abbigail Tumpey on how easy it is to disinfect surfaces that have been contaminated with Ebola.
So it’s killed easily, which is great. Unless you’ve already got it:
The death toll from the Ebola epidemic rose to 4,922 out of 10,141.
– WHO figures from Saturday, October 25. It’s below the recognised death rate of 70% but still well within the “you’re more likely to die than not” rate.
But wait, wait – as University of Queensland virologist Ian Mackay says, there is:
“…some risk involved in many things. There is some risk I will be hit by a car or abducted by an alien. But it’s about …. being realistic about the size of those risks.”
Fair enough. So we can be comfortable sleeping in our beds that the doctors and scientists of the world have Ebola under control, right? Because if anyone can, the folks at Yale should be able to set the record straight:
“The current global health strategy is woefully inadequate to stop the current volatile Ebola epidemic.”
Nice one Frederick Altice, Yale’s professor of internal medicine and public health. He just co-authored a report published the British journal the Lancet Infectious Diseases.
So where are we at? Ebola is wimpy and hard to contract. Some doctors even find it a bit of a joke.
You basically have to lick someone else’s vomit to get but once you do, there’s a great chance you’ll die from it. If you don’t, and you’re a guy, remember, you can’t have sex for three months after you’ve recovered, because that’s how long it can live in your semen for.
You may or may not catch it from your dog, depending on how much you love the little scamp, but it’s best to take the safe route employed by New York City resident Brooke Christensen, whose neighbour tested positive for Ebola:
“I’m not concerned. I’ve had no fluid exchanges with my neighbours.”
And it doesn’t really matter what any medical professional, politician or hack says, humans have a natural tendency to prepare for the worst. It’s called a survival instinct and it’s served the race pretty well so far, including Motherboard reporter Jason Koebler.
Koebler was at The Gutter bowling alley at the same time as Dr. Craig Spencer, who had returned to the US from Guinea on October 15 and would test positive for Ebola the following day.
“And still, all I could think about was whether or not I had touched or even seen this guy — only part of it being morbid curiosity. Maybe that’s the power of this thing.”
Perhaps, because we’re a business publication after all, it’s best left to the markets to sort out whether we should be worried or not, because nothing talks like money.
“Ebola Fears knocked US futures sharply last night to 1932.”
Damn. But just a couple of hours later:
“Calmer heads have rallied Equity futures back.”
And speaking of following the money, we’ll leave you with this most alarming cause for alarm – a report suggesting a link between a US-funded company trying to secure a lucrative diamond find in Africa and the suspicious outbreak of Ebola several months later.
“U.S. Army personnel have started the construction of two treatment centers in Sinje, Grand Cape Mount County…the very same area where the diamonds were discovered!”
All that’s left to say is Ebola is a disease, one of many that’s killed people and is still killing people, and that’s enough reason in itself to keep fighting it.
If hysteria means increased vigilance and spurs action on eradicating a killer, that can only be a good thing.
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