How to Survive in an Age of Ebola and Right Wing Panic

A little more information, a whole lot less hype
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Every time you think the right wing screamers have reached a fever pitch, they find a new way to become more shrill and less connected to the facts and reality. The ongoing Ebola outbreak in West Africa and the possibility that someone might be able to bring the disease into the United States (knowingly or unknowingly) has pushed the right wing into new and ever more dangerous territory. It’s fertile ground with the right wing already predisposed to being anti-science, and hits all the right’s notes with xenophobia and racism.

I’ve posted about right wing hysterics from the likes of Matt Drudge, touting baseless claims that illegal aliens are bringing in diseases (like Enterovirus D68, which was first identified in the US in 1962). Jim Hoft has repeatedly posted along the same lines.

He’s again posting nonsense such as…

and

and

Never mind that the second tweet is so easily debunked; there hasn’t been any second case of confirmed Ebola in the US. Duncan was the only case so far — and anyone else who has been tracked or isolated was out of an abundance of caution. But that didn’t stop Hoft from hysterically alleging a second case with a deputy officer, that was not a case at all.

So, here’s a few more tidbits of information, applying to both the ongoing Enterovirus D68 outbreak and the Ebola outbreak in West Africa.

Enterovirus D68 has sent more people to the hospital and killed more people in the US than the single case of Ebola.

Influenza has killed more people in the US (and more pediatric deaths for the 2013-2014 season) and poses a much greater risk to everyone in the country than Ebola. Of course, there’s a way to reduce the risk of getting influenza (vaccination), but that’s a topic for another post.

So far, the CDC has fielded thousands of calls about potential cases. There have been hundreds of potential cases identified, and all but one has turned out to be a false alarm. Ebola isn’t easy to get, and it is impossible to get if you haven’t come in contact with someone showing the active symptoms.

But according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Ebola poses “no significant threat” to the United States. That’s primarily because it isn’t easy to catch Ebola. Unlike, say, the plague, which spreads easily via tick bites—or swine flu, bird flu and SARS, which are airborne—transmission of Ebola requires direct contact with the bodily fluids of an infected person: blood, vomit, feces, semen, saliva or sweat. And only someone displaying symptoms can transmit the virus; those infected but not showing symptoms are not contagious.

Note too that there are some skeptics and researchers who think that the Black Death that swept across much of Europe in the Middle Ages was the result of an Ebola-like virus, and not the disease long associated with tick bites fleas and rats (see the Update below).

Meanwhile, as to the right wing talking points about the ease with which illegal aliens or ISIS could cross the border and infect people, the CDC has 20 sites around the country in high volume ports of call to operate quarantines. These quarantine centers are public knowledge and are fully staffed at all times.

U.S. Quarantine Stations are part of a comprehensive system that serves to limit the introduction and spread of contagious diseases in the United States. U.S. Quarantine Stations are located at 20 ports of entry and land-border crossings where international travelers arrive (see map below).

They are staffed with medical and public health officers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and managed by CDC’s Division of Global Migration and Quarantine. These health officers decide whether ill persons can enter the United States and what measures should be taken to prevent the spread of contagious diseases.

There are locations in Anchorage, Seattle, San Francisco, Los Angeles, San Diego, Honolulu, El Paso, Dallas, Houston, Miami, Atlanta, Washington DC, Philadelphia, Newark, New York City, Boston, Detroit, Chicago, and Minneapolis. They also operate a facility in San Juan, Puerto Rico.

The CDC can quarantine persons showing symptoms for any of the following diseases: Cholera, Diphtheria, Infectious tuberculosis, Plague, Smallpox, Yellow fever, Viral hemorrhagic fevers, severe acute respiratory syndromes, and new types of flu (influenza) that could cause a pandemic.

That list therefore includes Ebola (as a viral hemorrhagic fever).

It’s also interesting to note that the number of quarantine centers dropped from 55 to 8 during the 1970s because it was believed that infectious diseases were a thing of the past. That turned out to be way off the mark. The number of centers was increased to 20 by 2007 as a result of the 9/11 terror attacks, the anthrax attacks, and the SARS outbreak in 2003.

Mind you, there is a possibility that additional Ebola cases could occur — whether as part of the contact tracing with Mr. Duncan or with a new source arriving from West Africa.

Health professionals know what they’re up against here in the US. The concern shouldn’t be about an outbreak of cases here in the US, but rather in other parts of the Third World where the health infrastructure simply can’t handle the strain of this kind of outbreak. You want a worst case scenario? If cases begin showing up in Haiti in the Western Hemisphere or elsewhere in Africa or Asia, you’ll have it.

But the best way to prevent the spread of Ebola beyond West Africa’s borders is to stop the outbreak at the source. That means convincing Republicans like Sen. David Vitter of the absolute necessity to release the funds necessary to get the US aid mission all the support needed.

Writing to the members of the Senate Appropriations and Armed Services Committees, Vitter urged, “I ask you to oppose fully allowing the additional $1 billion in reprogramming requests until previously requested additional information is available for members of Congress to be fully briefed.” Vitter went on to assail the White House plan because, he wrote, it “focuses on Africa, and largely ignores our own borders.”

Right. It focuses on Africa because that’s where the outbreak is occurring right now and the best way to stop it from entering the US is to stop it there. It’s called “containment.”

UPDATE at 10/9/14 6:29:05 pm by lawhawk


As lexalexander notes in the comments, ticks weren’t the vector for the plague. It was fleas (with an assist from rats). Newsweek got that wrong, and I’ve fixed my recitation of that - but have otherwise left the Newsweek quote as written.

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