I’ve had a lot of fun jesting about the ebola virus mass hysteria ever since somebody came down with the frightening disease in the United States. I joked that I got ebola from pumpkin spice latte, and probably a half-dozen other suspicious parties. Until today. Suddenly the contagious disease has a local connection or two. And people are frightened.
Public Enemy No. 1
So a healthcare worker who had contact with the ebola patient who died in Dallas visited family this week in Tallmadge, Ohio (an Akron ‘burb), including some who work at Kent State University. She was diagnosed with ebola after she returned to Dallas via a plane that flew out of Cleveland. The CDC says she had no symptoms while on that flight or while visiting in NE Ohio. BUT, given the CDC’s recent performance in dealing with the ebola scare, it has a bit of a credibility problem. Was she really asymptomatic, does ebola really only transmit via bodily fluids, is it only contagious after symptoms begin to show?
Suddenly folks in Akron and Tallmadge and Kent State and anyone at Cleveland Hopkins Airport are worried about being exposed to this super-scary virus.
OK, to sum up:
One person has died from ebola in the United States. Thousands have reportedly died in continental Africa during the recent outbreak and it is not showing signs of slowing down. The CDC says the virus is only contagious via direct exposure to bodily fluids of an infected patient and that the U.S. healthcare system is vastly better prepared to contain any outbreak than the Third World is.
BUT (You saw this coming, right?):
What if the ebola virus mutates? What if we don’t really know all there is to know about this bug? I mean, ebola is a relatively new phenomenon, unlike smallpox or chickenpox or measles or the flu or the common cold. Or even AIDS. Many of these viruses can be transmitted through the air or surface contact. And many of these can be transmitted before any symptoms begin to show.
This is direct from the CDC website:
“A person with chickenpox can spread the disease from 1 to 2 days before they get the rash until all their chickenpox blisters have formed scabs.”
So what happens if ebola mutates to the point that it is transmissible 1 to 2 days before symptoms begin to show? What if it can be transmitted via a sneeze or a doorknob?
Well, then we might have cause for mass hysteria.
Those of us around in the mid-1980s and early ’90s remember the AIDS scare. At that time getting HIV/AIDS was a guaranteed death sentence. People feared it was transmissible through mosquito bites (it’s not) or kissing or simply shaking hands (not and not). Medical research improved after a few years, drugs to combat the virus became more effective and prevention of the spread of the disease got better. But in the meantime, a lot of people died. I lost several friends.
It’s still pretty early in this saga to suggest this is the next bubonic plague or one of the flu epidemics that killed millions of people in past outbreaks.
And as many pundits have correctly pointed out, thousands of people die each year from the flu and car accidents, cancer, heart disease and so forth. Yet these deadly afflictions don’t trigger mass panic.
A year from now, this could turn out to be meh, whatever.
Oh, and I just learned I got ebola from a squirrel in my yard. Little bastard!