More Disturbing Ebola Hysteria

Now the Ebola panic has moved to a new level. Science magazine reported yesterday:

Ebola fears are interfering with the world’s premier scientific meeting on tropical diseases. Today, Louisiana state health officials asked anyone who has traveled to Liberia, Sierra Leone, or Guinea in the past 21 days, or has treated Ebola patients elsewhere, to stay away from the annual meeting of the American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene (ASTMH), which begins on Sunday in New Orleans.

ASTMH says that the annual meeting is its “flagship event” and “is the premier forum for the exchange of scientific advances in tropical medicine and global health.” The jindal and doctororganization also says it “is proud to be the professional home for scientists, clinicians and program professionals who lead the fight against infectious disease – in the lab and on the ground.”

Yet, the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals—whose Secretary was appointed by the very right-wing Governor Bobby Jindal—and the Governor’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness has taken the position that if anyone shows up, say, someone with expertise in Ebola transmission and who has actually been to West Africa, they will be given the Chris Christie treatment and quarantined for 21 days.

It’s bad enough that an Ebola-fighting nurse was imprisoned in a tent in New Jersey, now we have scientists and other infectious disease experts being treated like they are a threat to public health in Louisiana.

ASTMH had little choice but to warn those who were planning on attending the important event:

We deeply regret that some of our attendees are affected by Louisiana’s travel advisory and as a result, we have requested that people planning to attend the Annual Meeting cooperate with the state’s policy.

Science magazine quoted Daniel Bausch, a researcher at the Tulane University School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine in New Orleans, as saying, “This policy is fundamentally flawed and not evidence-based.” Who is surprised at that, given the dominance of the anti-science party in Louisiana? The magazine also offered us this quote from Peter Hotez, who is Founding Dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine:

It’s very unfortunate and could potentially be counterproductive by preventing health care workers from Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea from sharing their experiences and findings at one of the most important tropical disease meetings globally.

Yes, it is unfortunate. But it seems more than potentially counterproductive. It seems obviously counterproductive.

All of this Ebola fear and hysteria, all of this haste to quarantine healthy people, reminds me, for some reason, of the post-Pearl Harbor internment of U.S. citizens who happen to have had Japanese ancestry. That sad episode happened because large numbers of people, including people in power,  suspected that tens of thousands of Japanese Americans might actually have had some American-killing blood in their veins. That infamous interment order was signed by Franklin Roosevelt in 1942, but a commission authorized by Congress in 1980 found that the order  “was not justified by military necessity.” Further, the commission said:

The broad historical causes that shaped these decisions were race prejudice, war hysteria and a failure of political leadership. Widespread ignorance about Americans of Japanese descent contributed to a policy conceived in haste and executed in an atmosphere of fear and anger at Japan. 

There may not be race prejudice involved in Americans’ reaction to Ebola here at home, but there is a whole lot of hysteria and a blossoming failure of political leadership, especially Republican leadership.

9 Comments

  1. The Japanese-American internment of WW II is a good analogy to the current political pandering. It is a case of public fear in both cases.

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  2. ansonburlingame

     /  October 31, 2014

    It is deeper than just Japanese internment in my view. Get down to the essence of the argument; it is public well-being versus human rights, freedom if you will We all know that unlimited freedom is anarchy, chaos to use a scientific term. So how much freedom is good enough, or looked at it in the reverse, out far “out” must the boudaries of liberty be set, beyond which people are not allowed to go.

    Any government, in order to govern, must put peope behind a “fence” of sorts. The nurse in Maine decided to ride her bicycyle beyond the “fence” and thus ……….

    Civil libertarians and “liberals” are screaming to let sciene dictate how to handle Ebola. I
    agree. But when the current limits of science are unable to detect Ebola then when does prudence come into play, safety for the public perhaps.

    Today a person contacts Ebola; into that person’s body it goes. It stays there in a very small quantity and starts “eating” the body. At some point symptoms that science can detect show clearly Ebola is “there” in that body. No question that at that time, high temperature (but how high?), vomiting (once or ……?) AND (or) solid (liquid) waste excretion all happen, then science says there is Ebola in that body, definitively. Said another way, science can say with great accuracy YES there is Ebola in that person. But it cannot yet say, definitively, that NO, there is no Ebola in that person until 21 days relapse and the patient shows no symptoms. As for “hard to transmit”, baloney. Go find a doctor that would allow a patient to “just sneeze” a room if he was there with no respiratory protection. But when, exactly, does a simple sneeze become potentially deadly. No one knows for sure, yet, it seems to me.

    Science is thus far unable to detect Ebola in a body until …… when the symptoms become “sort of” obvious, meaning high temperature, and/or (or just and) vomiting, and/or (or just and) diaharea (spl?). Does it take all three or two or one of those symptoms before someone gets quarintined? Or maybe do they just have the flu or food poisoning, etc..

    My point of course is that the science related to Ebola is not yet at the point where we can “find it” in a body BEFORE it becomes “infecting” in others and the exact point at which Ebola becomes a hazard to others is not yet well understood “scientifically”.

    Think of it as a dam holding back rising waters. Must one wait to remove people below the dam UNTIL it breaks, or does prudence suggest doing “something” BEFORE the dam breaks?

    Quarintine is not punishing someone, in America at least. Even living in a tent, during warm weather, served takeout food from top of the line diners, etc., given all the comforts of home but in a tent is not punishment. Some would say it is simply prudence. Others call it government intrusion into ………

    One last point related to “scientists” (doctors in this case) I have had the privilege to work with some of the most brilliant scientific minds in America (National Labs), brilliant in terms of nuclear matters. But I assure you when the “stuff” hits the fan (is inadvertently released) in just a laboratory, the absolute WORST group of people to deal with containment of “stuff” are the brilliant scientists. THEY are the ones that will routinely track or spread “stuff” all over the place during a release or potential release of deadly “stuff”.

    Turn someone like me loose in an isolation ward to “inspect” for adequate personal containment or workers therein and I will provide a list of mistakes that could choke a horse, particularly if the workers were doctors. They would do a great job to keep “stuff” out of a patient (infection) but they are generally pretty lousy about keeping “stuff” FROM a patient into their own bodies. Improper seals on a mask, torn glove, lack of tape over ALL possible openings in Hazmat clothing, how to handle waste, etc., etc. could be found. How else did one doctor and two nurses, so far, contract Ebola? They made mistakes in containment of the virus it seems to me. As for waste, we know how deadly that can be. But does anyone really track it all the way from an infected body to ultimate disposal with approriate containment ENSURED, every step of the way. I seriously doubt it.

    Doctors will deal with keeping the patient “happy” along with treatment of a disease. They care deeply about their patients, and should do so. Doctors do not like imposing “unneeded” restrictions on patients as well and when a patient gets beligerent, Doctors are generally the last people willing to “lower the boom” on a sick person, literally “make” that person “follow orders”!

    Here is a perfect example, heard on PBS last night. A pregnant woman (in Africa) is admitted for Ebola. While being treated, in isolation I assume, she gives birth to a child, complete with the usual bodily fluids from giving birth. What to do?

    Mom is kept in isolation and dies. Baby and Granma are allowed to go home. Granma is given “training” how to care for the baby. The baby dies, from Ebola in a few days and Granma does so as well a few days later.

    A human tragedy for sure. But could two of those folks have been saved, or at least Granma, had baby been kept in isolation as well until 21 days were up?

    One last wild thought entering my crazy head of late while thinking about containing Ebola. How did Eurpeans “conquer” the western hemisphere after 1492? The greatest killer of “indians” during that period of conquest was DISEASE, small pox being one of the worst that killed Millions upon Millions of “indians” without a shot being fired. Europe brought disease to America and America became “European” in about 100 (or so) years. No one in America was immune to such diseases before Columbus. But many Europeans were immune to such.

    No, the likelyhood of an epidemic of Ebola is very low, infintiessimally low, unless …….. Now if you happened to be a very deadly “terrorist” AND could get you hands on some barrels of human waste from West Africa, just what MIGHT you consider doing with “it”, I wonder.

    In all probablity, one arrogant nurse in Maine will not infect anyone. Even if she does so, so what unless you happened to be, say her boyfriend or cop outside the door, etc.

    But just how many symptomatic Ebola patients must be found in America before ………?

    Unless human intent to infect comes about in America (unlikely for sure, but…….) we will be all right. But when dealing with this kind of “stuff” I was always trained to expect the worst and take action to prevent it, before the worst was found. And when I ran “drills” with doctors or scientists involved, well you could hear the uproar from miles away!!

    I repeat what I wrote a couple of weeks ago. Containment of deadly stuff is a challenge first for command and control of people. Science should dictate the nature of the “stuff”, scientifically AND develop the means to detect the “stuff”, scientifically. Science provides us more than I need to know about the nature of Ebola. But science has yet to develop the detection of the “stuff” until it is too late, maybe, for some.

    In this case there is zero need to evacuate anyone before the dam breaks. We are a very long way before that should even be considered. But we better pay attention to where that water is coming from (West Africa) AND doing the appropriate things with people that MIGHT be carrying water to add to the rising lake. Remember, a lot of people could be carrying “invisible water” from the source and not even knowing it.

    Anson

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    • Since others have answered your points here, I will only address this one: You called the nurse in Maine “arrogant.” Well, I have followed her story very closely since she arrived here and I can’t conceive of how anyone would say she was arrogant. The arrogance was all on the side of Chris Christie in this matter. She has been very measured in her activities, going out of her way to ensure members of her community that she does not want to frighten them. If only Chris Christie would act that way.

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  3. Anson –

    You are conflating two scenarios here. The scenario about containing the spread of radioactive contamination, the one you are familiar with, is not the same as the medical one concerning ebola.

    Just to elucidate one significant difference, the medical scenario is one in which, if you are potentiall contaminated, you don’t know for sure until 21 days later that you really are or really are not contaminated. That is not the case with radiological contamination – if you are contaminated, I can find out in minutes with the proper measuring instrument, and if you are not, I can put you right back to work. If you are, I must decontaminate you, and then you can hopefully go back to work. Neither of those possibilities usually takes 21 hours, let alone 21 days. 21 minutes might be more like the expected delay sequence.

    Picture a radiological contamination situation in which every time an ELT or Rad Tech interacts with someone who is potentially contaminated, they are removed from your work force for 21 days, at which point they can be measured to see if they are contaminated or not. You would rapidly run out of technicians/personnel you could use to control the situation. That is similar to the panic-stricken requirement to quarantine ebola workers who have been exposed.

    That’s what we’re facing if we institute controls that are too tight. We do not want to hamstring our best force for controlling this outbreak. Knowledge is power, panic is the path to death and destruction. As a former submarine commanding officer, I believe you know that. Calm, thoughtful, measured action based on knowledg, training, and logic is what Admiral Rickover taught us all, and that is what we should use. Panic will kill us all, if we let it.

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    • Good points, Nagarjuna, and I would add that ebola is different not only from radiation but from many other diseases. Measles, for example, is so contagious that even people in adjacent rooms have contracted it through the air. Ebola, on the other hand, isn’t airborne and its symptoms forewarn in time for quarantine. It is confusion over this difference, I submit, that is causing most of the public, and pandering politicians, to panic.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Well said, my friend, well said.

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  4. ansonburlingame

     /  November 3, 2014

    Nargarjuan,

    I respectfully disagree with your comparison. Had I not worked at Rocky Flats, a bomb factory with tons of Plutonium all over the place, I would have agreed with you however based on just Navy experience..

    Just consider this point. IF radioactive material was very hard to detect, but the intake of even micrograms of it was deadly, what to do. I never considered that situation while in the Navy as the materials we dealt with around reactor plants was easy to detect, Cobalt 60 for example. With a high energy gamma emission, a simple ion chamber instrument could detect CO-60 easily. Detection was not hard but containment was difficult for sure.

    If you were a Navy Nuke (seems like you were or at least knew some) you recall how hard it was to successfully conduct a “spill drill”. The single most difficult thing to achieve in such training was deciding “Who was in charge at the scene”. Left to their own devices even a group of highly trained men could spread “stuff” all over the place unless someone that really knew what they were doing stood back and directed all the “traffic” with a very firm hand. Those that never trained in such exercises have no idea what I am talking about. But maybe you do, Nargarjuna.

    Now go into a plutonium facility. As an alpha emitter only it is very hard to detect, particularly in minute quantities. Only when Pu has been around for a long time, decayed to Americium and then is easy to find, another high energy gamma emitter. The inability to accurately detect Pu in small amounts caused that facility to require a shower under controlled conditions for every person leaving a controlled area, just for example. Had an inadvertant release of Pu been suspected, well it took a LONG time to “clear” everyone.

    To really be sure no Pu was present it took careful “counters”, not simple hand held instruments, to be SURE. I, as the boss of such a facility found myself with a slightly torn mask when in a contaminated area. I was correctly subjected to a long and careful body scan in a medical facility to be sure no inhalation had happened.

    My understanding of Ebola is that it is invisible to detection until …….. Certainly no one, yet, can wave a meter around to detect it on surfaces. Nor can any test of bodily content or fluids excreted by the body detect Ebola UNTIL it becomes “infecting”. Science has not yet found a way to detect Ebola soon enough to be sure it is not there. Combine that uncertainty with the deadliness of the disease and I conclude the same measures I would apply to containment of “invisible” radioactivity should be applied to Ebola.

    Inconvient as all get out, hard to do, etc., but is it prudent to ensure public safety? In my view such is the case. But more important, WHO should be making such decisions? I certainly don’t believe just any “nurse” should be allowed to do so.

    Anson

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  5. King Beauregard

     /  November 14, 2014

    More Americans have been married to Kim Kardashian than have had ebola here in the US.

    Liked by 1 person

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