Saturday, October 04, 2014


It worries me when I see a Fox News host using a retweet to encourage trutherism about the spread of Ebola, merely because cynical scaremongering is good for ratings (and for the GOP's prospects in November):

Granted, this tweet is expressing general doubts about government reassurances, not specific doubts about established science. It's not saying explicitly that everything we're being told about how Ebola is transmitted and contained is wrong.

But it encourages that sort of thinking.

There are two main issues right now with regard to Ebola and the administration. One is the decision not to suspend air travel from West Africa. That's what many Republicans are upset about, and at least their concern is consistent with science. Obviously, asymptomatic people can get through screening and arrive here infected. If we can have a discussion of this that isn't primarily about political point-scoring, fine.

But implying that we don't have well-established protocols for containing the virus and that the transmission process is poorly understood is dangerous. Unfortunately, this line of thinking is plausible to a lot of people -- not just because we're seeing a confirmed case here in America, but because we're seeing a failure to contain the disease in Africa.

Maybe if government officials made clear that Ebola's spread in Africa is because protocols aren't being followed, not because those protocols are in question, they could draw a contrast to the U.S. that would seem intuitive to ordinary Americans.

As The New Republic's Rebecca Leber notes:
The reason for the different odds here and there is obvious: In U.S. hospitals, patients are isolated in hospital rooms specially set up for biocontainment, they receive specialized care and hydration, and have access to an experimental vaccine. That's not happening in West Africa. In order to end this epidemic there , the CDC estimates, at least 70 percent of patients must be isolated in hospitals. In Liberia, the figure is just 18 percent.
And as I've previously noted, there's this:
Health care workers in poor nations often do not have enough protective gear to keep them safe from being infected with blood-borne viruses such as Ebola and HIV, a new study shows.

... the study was conducted before the current Ebola outbreak began in West Africa last spring...

In Liberia, only 56 percent of hospitals had protective eyewear for doctors and nurses and only 63 percent had sterile gloves. In Sierra Leone, those figures were 30 percent and 70 percent, respectively, the researchers found....
I'm convinced that people think we could have West Africa's experience. This is why we won't. We have plenty of isolation wards and protective gear.

And while average Americans probably wouldn't find this reassuring, I do:

Ebola spreads less readily than many other contagious diseases -- and if you reduce its transmission with careful isolation and effective contact tracing, eventually you contain the disease completely. It's worked in every past outbreak in Africa, with much weaker medical infrastructure. It would work here.

Americans need to grasp the fact that we understand this disease. In this situation, implying that everything the experts tell us is to be mistrusted is very dangerous. But that's the world Fox made, and we're stuck in it. So the administration has to push back harder than it has so far.


Victor said...

A lot of the conservative pundits, people, and politicians who are complaining about Ebola now for ratings, fun, profit, to ridicule the President and Democrats, and votes now, are the same ones who supported $600 million in cuts to the CDC's budget since 2010.

Budget cuts have consequences.

Modern conservatism - where irony meets cognitive dissonance.

Anonymous said...

I think the number of people who have any idea what Ebola is or does is infinitesimal, and it's being treated as "scary Negro disease" and "Porous Border Thing." It's a loathsome display by all news channels and just about all politicians.

Ken_L said...

It really makes you wonder how anyone ever summoned up the courage to leave their rooms in the pre-WW2 era, what with the constant threat of catching scarlet fever, polio, cholera, typhoid fever, TB, and dozens of other potentially deadly infectious diseases.

Philo Vaihinger said...

The big problem with controlling Ebola is that you have to get people who have had close contact with a sick person to accept 21 days of quarantine.

That's a hard sell in Africa and is apt to be a hard sell in America.

It is not helpful that Louis Farrakhan is telling millions of people it's a white plot to kill black people.

The president may personally have to step in at some point to debunk that blood libel and reassure people, especially black people, that quarantine is a necessary part of the effort to prevent the disease spreading.

It will certainly not help if at some point it turns out for some reason I cannot even imagine the disease is especially virulent among blacks, or vaccines noticeably less effective.