Friday, October 31, 2014

'Fearbola': superficially like AIDS crisis, but scarier

It is a bit of a misnomer to compare Ebola and the present day versus HIV of the '80s and '90s.  While it is true that both are viruses deadly to humans which emanate from Africa from an unknown source, no objective person would claim that an apple and a banana are the same thing just because they are both fruits.

For starters Ebola, a biosafety level four virus—the most dangerous type known to mankind—is far deadlier than HIV which by direct scientific comparison is only categorized as a level two virus.  HIV in the Reagan era was based on rumors, medical ignorance and fear of the unknown.  Contrarily, the panic related to Ebola is based upon facts easily gleaned by any interested party instantly through the internet which didn't exist when HIV first reared its ugly head.  

The first line of defense against diseases such as these is as tried-and-true as it is ancient: Byzantine emperor Justinian who as far back as 549 A.D. enacted a policy to separate the healthy from the sick in Bubonic plague-infested regions of the world.  Today, this common sense concept known as a quarantine remains the simplest and most effective policy to deal with the spread of deadly viruses.  That means a travel ban to and from the afflicted counties.  It is nonsensical, irresponsible and scientifically dishonest for Tom Frieden, a medical doctor and the head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to claim that such a policy "won't keep Ebola contained and away from American shores."  Maybe not, but leaving the door wide open has already enabled patient zero otherwise known as Thomas Eric Duncan, a Liberian man, to come to the major metropolitan city of Dallas which has led to the documented transmission of Ebola to two nurses while potentially exposing scores of others.  Specifically, it didn't help matters that the second nurse, one Amber Joy Vinson--medically trained in her own right and supposedly cleared by a phone call to the CDC--threw caution to the wind by boarding a commercial flight to Cleveland, Ohio.  Given the fact of recycled air in a contained environment creates a petri dish for germs.  Unfortunately, unaware of the potential danger, Frontier Airlines kept the same plane in service for several additional flights before grounding and decontamination.  This dynamic is like an eerie throwback to that '70s Farrah Fawcett Faberge organic shampoo commercial where her face continues to double until it fills the TV screen and she says "you'll tell [infect] friends and they'll tell [infect] two friends and so on and so on...."  

Since its discovery in 1976 Ebola, per the World Health Organization, has an average kill rate of 50% which can spike to 90%.  It is not paranoia, but reason to express concern given what is known and/or physically avoid the infected.  History has already shown that Ebola is a biological ticking time-bomb on two legs: only a plane ride away.

Similarly, experience has also already demonstrated that America's hospitals are ill-equipped to deal with Ebola safely.  It is in fact so deadly and contagious it must be handled by multi-gloved scientists in space suits utilizing elaborate safety and decontamination procedures in sealed rooms and highly secured buildings with reverse air pressure to prevent exposure or escape.  Such places are known as hot zones and for good reason: it is like playing Russian roulette with the devil.  It is the type of real-world situation that horror scribe Stephen King is on record for giving him nightmares; not the type of risk that our soldiers should undertake or our standard healthcare system contend.

Thus far, the Obama administration is even more lackadaisical than the Reagan administration was in the '80s, but with more information, better technology and fewer excuses.  Given the fact that the incubation period for Ebola is 2 to 21 days, it remains very easy for exposed individuals, like Mr. Duncan, to lie to airport officials and easily overcome temperature-taking screening by the consumption a couple of ibuprofen pills.  Indeed, why a West African travel ban remains off the table despite political pressure from both sides of the aisle--something Reagan undoubtedly would have done immediately with a phone call--remains unclear.  

Therefore, by any objective standard, Mr. Obama is demonstrating a much greater degree of head-in-the-sand (trap) syndrome than Reagan did: just last week he interrupted one of his numerous golf outings to make a brief follow up phone call to Secretary of Health and Human Services Sylvia Burwell.  Furthermore, canceling fundraising activities to hold "high-level" talks, appointing a political operative, Ron Klain--a man who is not even a medical doctor--as Ebola czar and fallaciously blaming Republicans for reducing funding to the CDC which they actually increased is nothing more than playing politics with a potentially deadly health crisis.

Before Mr. Duncan graced our shores with his presence the probability of Ebola infection to Americans was virtually zero.  Now it is two nurses and that is two too many.  AIDS has a long latency period--unlike Ebola which can kill in days--and it has no life-prolonging drug cocktail.  Like Mr. Reagan's reputation was tarnished by his lack of responsiveness to AIDS, it is very likely that Mr. Obama will go down as the Ebola president.  The pivotal difference lies in the fact that there is still time to make sensible and medically-sound choices: close the southern border, initiate travel bans, localize the afflicted in the U.S. to one specialized treatment facility and restrict access to the African hot zone countries to highly-trained medical professionals.  This is one epidemic America can do without.  In the final analysis our national policy should reflect the old adage that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

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