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America Reacts To The Ebola Crisis With Heroism, Cowardice, And Ignorance
America Reacts to the Ebola Crisis with Heroism, Cowardice, and Ignorance
I have been watching and reading about the Ebola crisis with increased interest and disturbance over the last several weeks. It began with reports of the Ebola virus spreading rapidly through parts of western Africa at a speed not seen before. A natural unease began to embed itself upon myself and the rest of the American people raising serious questions. Is this disease mutating out of control? Do the world health authorities have a handle on it? Are we at serious risk?
These were natural questions to be asked in the face of this possible pandemic. Several world health organizations had already been in the area for months dealing with this Ebola outbreak. They had been performing outstanding and selfless work treating the patients, studying the disease, and working to confine it. Their work with this outbreak and prior ones have made them experts on the important aspects of this disease.
The truth of the matter is that the Ebola virus would have been spreading throughout the world unchecked without their yeoman efforts to fight the disease. Then the most feared possibility occurred for Americans. An Ebola victim showed up in a United States hospital and the diagnosis was missed. Suddenly fear began to grip the country. An American doctor treating Ebola patients in Africa returned to the U.S. and developed Ebola himself several days later. Suddenly the fear that was gripping us turned into hysteria.
What followed resembled a horror movie rather than an informed and intelligent reaction. In this Hub, I will give a brief history of the disease followed by a synopsis of this current outbreak. I will then examine the reaction the U.S. had to this Ebola outbreak as it arrived on our shores. Finally, I will state my opinion on all of these aspects as well as how we should proceed regarding Ebola and any other health threats.
Ebola was first identified in 1976 within the nation of Sudan. Several other outbreaks have occurred in Africa since then mostly between 1995 and 2012. None of these were very large and they did not spread very far. Unfortunately the fatality rate has always been high. The 2014 outbreak still circulating in West Africa has shown that the virus may have morphed to some degree.
This is the first time Ebola has hit the western African region mainly within Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone. Previously recorded cases numbered in the hundreds. This outbreak has caused many thousands of casualties and growing. What factors are responsible for this dangerous change?
Ebola is spread mainly through the transfer of fluids between an infected person and a non-infected person. Cultural norms in west Africa insist upon direct contact with the recently deceased to prepare them for burial. Unfortunately the most infectious stage of Ebola is in the final stages leading up to death. Direct contact with the recently deceased provides a high degree of likelihood that the disease will be transmitted.
These three west African countries are also very poor with a very low degree of infrastructure to deal with Ebola. This 2014 outbreak spread also to Nigeria and Senegal. These two countries are far more advanced in their facilities and healthcare industry. They acted quickly to shut down the contagion and both became Ebola free within a short span of time.
This Ebola outbreak is still far from contained within west Africa. It may even be growing which threatens surrounding countries and potentially the world. What should the United States and the world do to contain and ultimately stop this dangerous health threat?
World health organizations react rapidly every time to contain and eradicate any new and dangerous health threat as it arises. The individuals who work for these organizations put their lives on hold and into danger promptly each time one of these episodes occur. These responses generally go unnoticed and untold. This is a remarkable testament to the effectiveness and diligence of these heroic healthcare workers.
They are performing this same determined and multi-faceted attack on this current Ebola crisis. This larger and more deadly outbreak would be even more widespread and potent without their selfless battle against this disease. What has the response been to this heroism by their fellow Americans?
The initial response to this Ebola outbreak from the American public was one of unease but also one of pride in our healthcare professionals. This remained the case so long as the epidemic remained safely in Africa. Of course, this was never likely to remain as the status quo.
The first few American healthcare workers flown back to the United States with Ebola were transported in a controlled environment to hospitals with proper training and isolated facilities. All recovered with proper early treatment of symptoms and some experimental therapies. The American public was reassured and remained calm.
On September 20, 2014, Thomas Eric Duncan flew into Dallas not knowing he was infected with the Ebola virus. He visited a Dallas hospital emergency room five days later with a fever. The doctors misdiagnosed his condition and sent him home with antibiotics. He returned in much worse condition four days later and was finally diagnosed with Ebola. He died ten days later.
Two nurses who treated Duncan in the final and most contagious stages contracted the disease. Both recovered because they were diagnosed and treated during the early stages of the disease. Two weeks later a doctor working with "Doctors Without Borders" returned to New York City not knowing he had Ebola. He was asymptomatic and socialized with friends and took a subway ride to a bowling alley in Brooklyn before symptoms arose. He notified authorities as soon as those symptoms occurred and was quarantined immediately. He also recovered due to early detection and treatment.
Unfortunately this case and the Dallas cases scared the public to a huge degree. Governors Chris Christie of New Jersey and Andrew Cuomo of New York reacted immediately without knowing any of the pertinent facts of this or any Ebola outbreak. They ordered a mandatory twenty one day quarantine of all medical workers and passengers who had any contact with Ebola patients.
This was enacted almost simultaneously as the two Dallas nurses were being declared Ebola free and being released from the hospital. They also did not infect any other people due to their prudent actions. No further outbreaks occurred by way of either the Dallas incidents or the New York City case.
Kaci Hickox, a nurse returning to the U.S. after helping to treat Ebola patients in Sierra Leone, arrived at Newark Airport in New Jersey literally days after the quarantine declarations by the Governors. She was checked by authorities and was found to be running a minimal fever. This fever proved to be a false positive because all of the subsequent temperature checks showed her to have no fever at all. Nonetheless these authorities decided she must be put under immediate quarantine at the airport.
Ms. Hickox was kept in a makeshift tent at the airport with very few creature comforts. She complained vehemently about this treatment because she knew that she was not suffering from any Ebola symptoms. She hired an attorney and New Jersey soon relented and allowed her to leave and return to her home in Maine.
Unfortunately Kaci received very poor yet much less draconian treatment in her home state. Governor Paul LePage tried to keep her confined to her home but she refused. Even her native Maine neighbors voiced outrage at her behavior without knowing any of the facts. Fear had taken over. A judge finally agreed with her after studying all the facts and the quarantine was lifted.
I believe these episodes reveal a lot about our country at the present time. We are often a very heroic, brave, and generous people. Unfortunately fear and ignorance sometimes trumps these qualities when people believe their lives are in imminent danger.
Our heroic healthcare workers, both professionals and volunteers, deployed out to the effected West African countries with earnestness and the best humanitarian intentions. There is no telling how bad and how far this contagion would have spread without their herculean efforts. They routinely perform these duties with little acclaim and with none expected.
Then along comes a disease that most people have little to no knowledge about. Media reports detail an epidemic with fairly rapid, gruesome, and deadly aspects. Unease quickly escalates. It then explodes when Ebola eventually and inevitably reaches our shores. Thoughtfulness and compassion flies out the window. Fear and mistrust suddenly rules the day. Politicians impose draconian measures to both reassure the public and to "cover their asses". They do this in reaction to the possibility of multiple cases arising in their jurisdictions and then subsequently being blamed for not doing enough.
The bottom line regarding this health scare and any others that might develop over the coming years is that our government leaders, media, and the public at large must learn to find out the facts first before blindly reacting. Our society as well as others have risen and prospered over the years through the use of our intelligence, innovation, curiosity, and compassion. These were surprisingly absent during this episode.
Furthermore, let us learn to trust the experts who have tirelessly and constantly dealt with all aspects of this and any other health problem. Most of them have put their lives on the line directly at ground zero of this outbreak. They know the risks and what it takes to mitigate them. They live their lives helping to save others. They would not throw this all away and endanger their fellow Americans.
How many of us would be willing to put our lives on hold and at risk in this same way to save others? Very few of us. Let us stop and think about these heroes before we blindly react to our fears the next time a similar health threat occurs. Hopefully we have learned from our shameless reaction to this Ebola scare. We will have returned to being a compassionate, thoughtful, and heroic nation if we do.