The Washington Post published an article today titled: Why you’re not going to get Ebola in the U.S.
In it, Amesh Adalja, a member of the public health committee of the Infectious Disease Society of America was quoted as saying:
“There is zero danger to the U.S. public from these [two] cases or the Ebola outbreak in general.”
This, of course, is a flat-out lie. The risk may be minimal, it may be negligible, but it is not "zero."
The incubation period is between 2 and 21 days and during that period the individual is not contagious but is symptom free so he or she could easily travel anywhere in the country without drawing attention. The really horrific symptoms like bleeding from the eyes don't appear until the end stages of the disease, and the initial symptoms are similar to those of a hundred other viral infections and are not going to cause a doctor to immediately think EBOLA!
It has been shown in the lab that the disease can be contracted by inhaling very small droplets of airborne bodily fluids, and there are documented cases of primates contracting Ebola from swine without direct contact, the theory being that droplets of fluid from the swine went airborne and contacted the primates' skin. For these reasons the virus has been classified a Category A biological weapon
The U.S. public health system and primary healthcare providers must be prepared to address various biological agents, including pathogens that are rarely seen in the United States. High-priority agents include organisms that pose a risk to national security because they can be easily disseminated or transmitted from person to person; result in high mortality rates and have the potential for major public health impact; might cause public panic and social disruption; and require special action for public health preparedness.
Anthrax (Bacillus anthracis)
Botulism (Clostridium botulinum toxin)
Plague (Yersinia pestis)
Smallpox (variola major)
Tularemia (Francisella tularensis)
Viral hemorrhagic fevers (filoviruses [e.g., Ebola, Marburg] and arenaviruses [e.g., Lassa, Machupo])
The WHO classifies the virus as a Risk Group 4 pathogen
"High individual and community risk. A pathogen that usually causes serious human or animal disease and that can be readily transmitted from one individual to another, directly or indirectly. Effective treatment and preventive measures are not usually available."
The highest level of Biosafety protocols (4)
is required in the handling of the virus:
"This level is required for work with dangerous and exotic agents that pose a high individual risk of aerosol-transmitted laboratory infections, agents which cause severe to fatal disease in humans for which vaccines or other treatments are not available"
The author Lenny Bernstein writes:
The CDC is among the medical authorities that acknowledge that hospitals must do a better job of controlling infection.
Doctor Adalja agreed
, but still maintains the risk is zero.
The infected healthcare workers in Liberia were or should have been wearing Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and they still contracted the disease. The video reports of the facilites in Liberia where these poor people are being treated show healthcare providers dressed, head to toe, in Haz-Mat suits. They look like scenes from the film "Andromeda Strain." Still, something went wrong and the two US heathcare providers contracted the disease.
“The first line of defense is a doctor or triage nurse asking every patient who shows up with a fever whether he or she has recently traveled to West Africa, which the CDC has reminded them to do.”
Does anyone really thing that from this day forward, every nurse or doctor in America is going to ask a patient with a fever if they have recently traveled to West Africa? Ebola is not the only horrible disease that is found in Africa. When was the last time you visited your doctor with a fever and were asked if you’d been to Africa recently?
The author writes, "It is extremely unlikely that anyone other than healthcare workers will come into contact with an infected person’s blood, vomit or feces"
and yet there are outbreaks of e-coli infections in this country, on a seemingly regular basis, and how to you think the produce that the infected ate was contaminated?
In all likelihood, there will not
be an Ebola outbreak here due to these two infected healthcare workers, but the possibility of any such outbreak is clearly not “zero.” I can understand the desire to provide these two unfortunate people the best treatment available, but we are kidding ourselves if we don’t also think that bio-hazard researchers are salivating over the chance to study Ebola patients in their hospital/laboratories. This is the chance of a life-time for scientists who don’t want to travel to Africa and study the virus in less than state-of-the-art facilities; with a much greater chance of them sustaining the disease themselves.
There is no guarantee that these two patients will survive under US treatment and there was no guarantee that they would have died if they remained in Liberia, however I am willing to accept that the risk is too small to not try and save these two people, but I’m sorry if I don’t have complete faith in what I am told by the CDC or individual researchers, or in the infallibility of safety protocols. I don’t appreciate being lied to or smug comments like Adalja’s that if I still want to worry about something I should worry about bird flu.
He and the other researchers involved should worry about what will happen if they are proven wrong. If there is an outbreak of this horrible disease here in the US, they are likely to be hung on lampposts.