Ebola Facts And Fantasies

EditorialBy Gregory J. Welborn, 10/17/2014


Americans are becoming increasingly fearful of Ebola.  Sadly, much of that fear is based on misunderstanding.  To deal successfully with this deadly disease, we need to understand where there is real danger and where there is not, so that we can effectively demand that our elected leaders contribute to the fight rather than hinder it.

ebola.patientThere can be no legitimate denial of that fact that Ebola is a nasty little virus with upwards of a 70% mortality rate, but it can also be treated.  The difference between successful and unsuccessful treatment – between life and death – depends on the stage at which the virus is spotted in the patient AND the ability of the healthcare system to actually administer the treatment we do have.  There is no vaccine or “cure” but there are drugs and treatments which can sufficiently aid the patient’s immune system so that it can successfully fight off the virus.

Dr. Kent Brantley and aid-worker, Nancy Writebol, are examples of success.  NBC’s Ft. Worth affiliate reported on October 7th  that  both had contracted the disease, obtained treatment quickly and have been cured.  Thomas Duncan is an example of failure.  Mr. Duncan went to a Dallas hospital with Ebola symptoms, informed the intake nurse that he had been in West Africa, but was sent home.  He later returned to the hospital and subsequently died.

As the examples illustrate so clearly, the timeliness and quality of treatment are the key.  Both issues are relevant when we talk about the fear that accompanies any mention of the disease.

As I write these words, the likelihood that America will be inundated with an Ebola epidemic is extremely low – to the point where there should be no fear of the immediate future.  As a nation, we have the treatments and we have a system which can successfully implement the treatments for the current number of Ebola cases, as well as for what should be the reasonably projected number of future Ebola cases.

It is in this last statement where we find he kernels of what is a legitimate fear.  If the number of Ebola cases explodes beyond the number that can be handled, there will be an epidemic.  So while we should not fear an epidemic right now, we have ample reason to worry that our leaders are not taking the possibility of outbreak seriously enough.  There is the point where we transition from irrational fear to reasonable concern, and where we should focus our efforts to exert pressure on the current administration to step up its game immediately.  This is not a J.V. disease.

A good sign is that President Obama canceled a fundraising trip to hold a press conference.  But a bad sign is his refusal to institute a travel ban and quarantine regimen on travelers from West Africa and the CDC’s continuing mismanagement of the situation.

Earlier this week, Texas health authorities announced a second nurse had contracted Ebola.  What causes legitimate concern here is the fact the CDC gave her permission to travel by airplane after she told them she had been exposed and was symptomatic – another case where government designed protocols didn’t work. 

Dr. Thomas Frieden, the head of the CDC was questioned in a nationally televised interview both about the nurse’s travel permission and about the CDC’s insistence that no travel ban should be placed on West Africa traffic.  This was his time – and by extension the administration’s time – to instill confidence in Americans.  If the country is prepared to handle Ebola, we will be O.K.  But, if we are not prepared to handle this killer, then there will likely be thousands of deaths. 

Sadly, Dr. Frieden did not comport himself well.  He had no comforting explanation for why the nurse was given permission to fly with a fever.  He simply said that her fever of 99.5 degrees was below the CDC threshold of 101 degrees.  Given that medical protocols were already found lacking and the nurse had been treating an Ebola patient, common sense would have suggested greater caution.  We can pardon Americans for questioning whether the CDC really has its act together.

With regard to his absolute resistance to a travel ban, the doctor was worse than unprepared or incoherent, although there were elements of both in his response.  When he finally spit out his answer, it was that banning travel from Ebola infected areas would make the situation in the U.S. worse.  It simply defies common sense.  He somehow feels that if commercial airlines don’t service the route, then aid workers won’t be able to get to infected West Africa.  He does not believe that the U.S. military could take aid workers in and out. 

It is hard to swallow that the head of the CDC is developing and implementing policy at this level without guidance, if not outright direction, from the White House.  It’s clear it is the administration which refuses to implement the common sense step of travel bans and quarantines, nor will they seal the U.S. border.

Why this is extremely important was made clear by Marine Corps General John Kelly.  He logically pointed out that if Ebola makes it to the Caribbean or to South/Central America’s slums (where it will breed as fast, if not faster than in West Africa), we will see an unprecedented wave of unchecked illegal immigration along our unsealed southern border.

Our medical system will not be able to handle the quantity of infected people embedded in such an immigration wave.  Our system can protect us from Ebola if it can affectively handle the number of infected patients.  Push that number higher, and there will be a deadly epidemic.

Now is not the time to panic.  But now is not the time to procrastinate.  Now is the time to adopt serious policy changes like banning travel from infected areas and sealing our border.  Americans need not be afraid, but we do need to be concerned about what our leaders do – and do not do – and to insist that they step up to the common sense policies which will protect us all.


Meanwhile, back at the CDC Operations Center, Atlanta

Gregory J. Welborn is a freelance writer and has spoken to several civic and religious organizations on cultural and moral issues.  He lives in the Los Angeles area with his wife and 3 children and is active in the community.  He can be reached [email protected]/5l.com


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