Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Thinking About Ebola

The Ebola hemorrhagic fever has been in the news a lot lately. The bulk of my knowledge about the Ebola virus comes from Laurie Garrett's 1994 opus The Coming Plague: Newly Emerging Diseases in a World Out of Balance . In other words, it's dated but fairly good. Dr Alison Campbell has a blog post about "alternative medicine" grifters descending vulture-like on people fearing a pandemic, while Vixen Strangely has a post about Donald F. Trump criticizing the CDC for bringing two Americans who have contracted Ebola to Atlanta's Emory University for treatment.

Personally, I think that the transportation of the two American Ebola patients back to the states was a smart move- not only will the two receive a level of care they would not be able to receive in Liberia (though a promising treatment was administered while they were still there), but the scientists and medical doctors at the Center for Disease Control will be better able to study this horrific viral infection. The news reports surrounding the outbreak tend to be sensationalized with regard to the lethality rate of the virus and the ease of transmission. The conspiracy-minded right wing fringehas even insinuated that the Obama administration is responsible for bringing Ebola to the States for some nefarious reason (and the linked post is from the "mainstream" conservative site Forbes). Even more stupidly, at least one Republican congressman has raised the specter of young Central American refugees carrying Ebola to the U.S., even though Ebola is unknown in the Western Hemisphere.. though there are hemorrhagic fevers endemic to Latin America.

"Tropical" diseases such as Ebola and Dengue are largely neglected by the big pharmaceutical corporations because they occur in countries populated by "those" people- poor folks in the developing world aren't profitable to treat, unlike rich old guys with erectile dysfunction. The CDC now has an invaluable opportunity to study the virus under ideal conditions and will hopefully act to contain the outbreak in West Africa.

I would exhort everyone to read Laurie Garrett's chapter on Ebola, even though it is dated. One major factor in the Ebola outbreak in Central Africa that she covered was the re-use of needles for inoculations and the administration of medicine. Another major factor was traditional funerary practices, in which the families of the decedents would prepare the bodies for burial without gloves or other protective gear, thus leaving them open to exposure. It's a heartbreaking read... one ruefully chuckles as beleagured nuns interpret the order to establish a cordon sanitaire as an instruction to use tape to delineate the precincts of an Ebola ward. Still, it's better to be educated about the disease than to rely on the sensationalism of the TV news.

Here in the NY Metro area, we had an Ebola scare which proved to be false. While the chances that there will be an outbreak here in the States is slim, it is not nonexistent. With study of the virus, and improved therapeutic measures, Ebola may cease to be as pants-wettingly scary as it is now, but we require cooler heads when we approach the subject.

A couple of days ago, I head a promotional blurb on NPR for a segment about how media consumers should approach with "Breaking News" segments. I didn't bother listening to the segment- when it comes to listening to "Breaking News" items, my advice is "don't do it".

10 comments:

Smut Clyde said...

Orac is also good on the opportunism of homeopaths and their fellow grifters.

mikey said...

Americans are stupid. There is no real risk to people in the US from Ebola or any of the other "Hot Zone" viruses.

Meanwhile, while the American media is caught up in the latest gory hemorrhagic fever, those boring old standbys, malaria and cholera are killing people in war zones from Nigeria to Syria to CAR.

We spend so much time trying to figure out what might hurt US that we never have the wherewithal to try to figure out what we should do.

Americans are the most insular, selfish, least empathetic people that have ever walked this earth, and if we can't root for murder or the biblically justified death of brown people, we're having a bad week. When the bill comes due, it's going to be a really hard lesson for those of us who think not getting HBO is a brutal deprivation....

Big Bad Bald Bastard said...

Orac is also good on the opportunism of homeopaths and their fellow grifters.

Can a dilution of one ppm of bullshit cure a belief in homeopathy?

We spend so much time trying to figure out what might hurt US that we never have the wherewithal to try to figure out what we should do.

The problem is that killing people is very, very profitable, and our leaders are sociopaths.

Smut Clyde said...

That Forbes article was vile. The author was basically calling for Ebola patients to be confined in internment camps, all the while citing "public interest" as a factor, as if the gibberings of Fox hosts and wingnut politicians were expressions of spontaneous grass-roots concern.

Big Bad Bald Bastard said...

Vile is part and parcel of mainstream conservatism.

Helmut Monotreme said...

"The problem is that killing people is very, very profitable, and our leaders are sociopaths." I'd quibble and say that 3 out of 4 times, it's not killing them that's profitable, it's more "not giving a shit about whether they live or die". But you are bang on about our leaders being sociopaths.

ifthethunderdontgetya™³²®© said...

Ebola may cease to be as pants-wettingly scary as it is now, but we require cooler heads when we approach the subject.

Meanwhile, the thing we OUGHT to be scared of, we're doing next to nothing about.

The perils of a political system that is owned by and run for short-sighted greed-heads.
~

Jim H. said...

B^4: The two patients are now residing less than 2 miles from my home. Spouse Wisdoc (who's in Emory School of Medicine) had a mtg in the hospital the day they brought the 2nd patient and rode in from off-campus on her bike right behind the entourage. We're not worried in the slightest. Your analysis is correct and I Tweeted precisely the same sentiment a couple days ago.

The folks who play on people's ignorance and fear for political an monetary gain really gripe my ass.

Oh, and thunder is right (in the Comment above).

Patricia said...

Very enlightening Bad, I am glad you think it's a good thing that these patients were brought back to the states. I have encountered a lot of ignorant BS about this. I know one of the victims was a doctor caring for the sick, the other was a missionary. For all the "choose life" propaganda we encounter daily, almost everyone I encounter wanted to give these people a death sentence and leave them in Africa to die. That doctor, saved lives and has extensive knowledge we desperately need. These people have families that love them. What kind of people run scared of a threat that will not harm them? A pox on them all! Thanks for all the good info. I pray for all the people being affected by this horrible outbreak.

Big Bad Bald Bastard said...

I'd quibble and say that 3 out of 4 times, it's not killing them that's profitable, it's more "not giving a shit about whether they live or die".

Selling the instruments of death is big business- I think it's actual malice, not apathy.

Meanwhile, the thing we OUGHT to be scared of, we're doing next to nothing about.
The perils of a political system that is owned by and run for short-sighted greed-heads.


The long-term survival of the species is not as important as Exxon/Mobil's next quarter profits.

B^4: The two patients are now residing less than 2 miles from my home. Spouse Wisdoc (who's in Emory School of Medicine) had a mtg in the hospital the day they brought the 2nd patient and rode in from off-campus on her bike right behind the entourage. We're not worried in the slightest. Your analysis is correct and I Tweeted precisely the same sentiment a couple days ago.

Knowledge plus conscience... what a novel combination!

For all the "choose life" propaganda we encounter daily, almost everyone I encounter wanted to give these people a death sentence and leave them in Africa to die. That doctor, saved lives and has extensive knowledge we desperately need. These people have families that love them. What kind of people run scared of a threat that will not harm them? A pox on them all! Thanks for all the good info. I pray for all the people being affected by this horrible outbreak.

In addition, it's about time that our society shakes off its "not our problem" approach to these diseases.