|The US May Soon Go "Viral," But Not In a "Good" Way|
Some truly disturbing news has come across the wires this morning. I awoke to the headline in the on-line Le Figaro: "Ebola: premier cas d'infection diagnostiqué aux États-Unis"
One does not need to be an A-levels reader of French to understand what this means, and it is not good news.
Apparently, yesterday in Dallas, Texas, the very first case of a patient diagnosed with the fatal Ebola virus has been announced.
Needless to say, this is bad news. It's not necessarily alarming news. Not yet. It's not something I would recommend to casually ignore, however.
There has been a number of movies and books with doomsday stories. In order of decreasing likelihood, the list includes asteroids crashing into the earth. Widespread terrorist attacks, nuclear war. zombie apocalypse. The first is a virtual certainty given sufficient time; the last is, despite an actual epidemiological simulation run at a reputable university in Canada, not ever going to happen outside the imagination of George A. Romero or Rick Grimes. I am not particularly concerned about any of these. But one thing I do actually have on my fear radar is a viral or bacteriological plague.
In short, we are overdue - WAY overdue - for a thinning of the herd, so to speak. The last really great plague was the so-called Spanish Influenza of the early 20th century. What? No. SARS does not count. In 1918, the flu infected neary a half billion people, killing around 20% of them. 100 million dead is a lot of people just on its face. But considering that the world population then was only about two billion, the Spanish Influenza killed around one out of every 20 people on earth.
The world today is more than seven billion, so a similar culling would wipe out nearly two hundred million. To put that into perspective, the population of Japan is 125 million.
There is a rise of drug-resistant bacteria, and viruses are always changing; always improving their game. Hence, vigilance is needed.
Which makes the news today nothing short of infuriating. Put as simply as I can, the leadership in the US has failed. Big time. This is a potential catastrophe that does not need to happen. The government should be acting to ensure that it doesn't. Instead, they're actually taking steps to encourage the likelihood that it will.
Ebola is a virus that until today has never - not once - arisen on our shores. It exists in sub-Saharan Africa. It can only come to the US if people infected come. And that's just what has happened.
The Chairman of the US Senate Foreign Relations subcommittee on Africa, Chris Coons (D-DE) was quoted in the story as follows:
It was only a matter of time before an Ebola case would emerge here in the United States, but as we’re seeing in Dallas today, our public health system has the resources, capabilities, and knowledge to address and contain this virus quickly and safely
I beg to differ. It was "only a matter of time" (i.e., inevitable) if our leadership failed to take the one step necessary to stop Ebola spreading. Namely, to quarantine the regions of the map where the virus is out of control.
Have we done that? Of course not. Quite the opposite. Foolish American medical and other professionals have gone to the region to try to "help." Worse still, President Obama has deployed 3,000 soldiers to west Africa, primarily Liberia, including the 101st Airborne.
Plainly and simply, this is a gross dereliction of duty. And a flight from common sense.
For years, we've heard (quite sensibly) that the US military should not be the world's policeman. How on earth does it make sense for the Marines to be the world's pharmacist? This is not a matter of national security, and it is not a military matter. Sending the army to depose Saddam Hussein was stupid. Sending the US Marines to build hospitals (armed with, and I am not making this up, bottles of hand sanitiser) in Liberia is insanity.
Thus far, five "aid workers" in west Africa have become infected and were subsequently airlifted back to the US. Is this 'smart'? Is it in the national interest?
How can anyone say it is?
This is a free country; if medical workers want to risk their own lives to go off to a foreign land, that's their right. If they get infected with a virus that is nearly perfectly fatal, with no anti-virals or vaccines yet available, then I suggest that they take their chances with treatment in west Africa. There is plenty of need in the US still for medical saviours. There is plenty of work here to help the sick and the desperate. There is no need for American medical experts to be heroic tourists.
And in the case of the unfortunate man in Dallas - he is, apparently, not even a US resident. He is not entitled to come to the States; rather, he comes as a privilege, and privileges can be denied.
Sometimes, they should be.
It's fine that CDC spokesman Dr Thomas Frieden reassures us that "U.S. hospitals are well prepared to handle Ebola patients and (assures) the public that the virus should not pose the same threat in the United States as it does in Africa." It's great that the virus does not pose the same threat in the US as it does in Africa. But in a sane world, it would not pose any measurable threat. It would not be allowed to. There is really no need for American hospitals to be prepared to handle Ebola patients unless we choose to bring it here. What sane person would do that?
Despite Dr. Frieden's reassurances, I am not, well, particularly reassured. Statistics in the article reveal:
At least 3,091 people have died from Ebola in the worst outbreak on record that has been ravaging Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea in West Africa. More than 6,500 cases have been diagnosed, and the CDC has warned that the number of infections could rise to as many as 1.4 million people by early next year without a massive global intervention to contain the virus. [emphasis added]Epidemiology is a science that ostensibly began with the mapping by John Snow of a cholera outbreak in London to a public drinking fountain. The solution was to isolate and close the fountain. Unlike Snow at the time, we know what the virus is. We know how Ebola spreads. We know where it is. It should be quarantined and kept there. Those 1.4 million infected should not include Americans. It is not "only a matter of time" that they do.
Dr. Frieden concluded his remarks by saying "health authorities (are) taking every step possible to ensure the virus did not spread widely."
No - they plainly and simply are not.
Do not allow foreign nationals who have been in infected areas entry to the US until they have been quarantined and tested. Better yet - don't grant them landing visas until the outbreak is under control.
Quarantine any American who visits an area in which it is known that there have been Ebola cases until it can be determined that they are not putting others at risk.
I am sorry that this is ravaging Africa; we and other nations should be working to find vaccines and treatments. We should be sending aid to alleviate the suffering. But our government and its institutions exist to serve and protect our population first. At the exclusion of all others if necessary.
As the head vampire Max of the 80s film "The Lost Boys" said, never invite a vampire into your own house. I fear we've done just that.