The nation and, indeed, a good part of the world, is going nuts over Ebola. The flu kills more than 30,000 Americans every year and almost no one gets upset. More than 30,000 people are also killed on the highways and almost all of those deaths are unnecessary or preventable. Again, no panic. But, right now, panic about Ebola is very, very popular and good sense, brains and reason, have all been put on hold.
This is not to say that Ebola isn’t serious or, for that matter, there is no possibility that it will become a major outbreak. It could happen and it could, we know now for sure, happen here. That point, however, is some distance away.
The TerryReport will have more to say in the coming days about the potential for Ebola to evolve into a true national crisis, but, in the main, what we have to watch for are the numbers. 100 cases would be very bad. 1,000 cases would constitute a serious crisis, 10,000 cases would indicate that the efforts to contain and defeat Ebola were a failure. It would indicate, further, that we were in new, strange territory where no one would be completely sure what to do next and how to stop the spread. (Please note: there are obviously more precise ways to measure and judge the potentials of an outbreak and one would hope that the CDC has been looking to the ultimate possibilities. Those more careful calculations are not likely to be shared with the public, however.)
We aren’t anywhere near that point now. We are, in fact, in terms of the U.S., at a point not that far from where we started, with the assurance that the disease can be contained, limited and then defeated
We need to all stay calm and hope that now, with the full attention of the medical profession, the CDC and the national leadership, this dread disease can be sent packing. One of the good indicators in this regard is the fact that previous outbreaks in Africa have tended to dry up while medical people have worked on containing the disease. No one knows why, other than to believe that the containment methods worked, but there could be something hidden (or many things) in the disease that are not fully understood. It could be, in fact, that we could wake up in a couple of months and find there is no Ebola here or in Africa. The course of this disease in Africa over the last couple of decades indicates this is a good possibility.
Like all contagious diseases, Ebola is most dangerous if and when it progresses, as it has for the last couple of months in Africa, particularly Liberia. Math would tell the story, if things get much worse: 10 becomes 100, 100 becomes 1,000, 1,000 becomes 10,000 and then 10,000 becomes 100,000. The CDC is very unlikely to talk publicly about where the breaking points are because, in fact, no one knows for certain and, in any case, they wouldn’t want to risk increasing the panic among the public. This week has made clear that those points, which could be called points of no return, are much lower in number than anyone previously might have imagined. We simply are not prepared for Ebola in the U.S.A. We have been busy with “other matters” while this evil disease got its start in Africa and suddenly made its way here. The officials involved said we were ready and could take care of it in short order, or they implied that, and they were wrong.
There are only four state of the art isolation facilities in our entire hospital system. We don’t have thousands, or even hundreds, of highly trained people scattered across the nation to deal with this. In other words, it has to be contained NOW and any failure to do that would invite a major disaster. Yet, there is not, at this point, any reason to panic, to overreact the way many people are across the nation and in Dallas in particular.
Right now, the odds still look very much in our favor. Everyone involved is on high alert after the two nurses in Dallas became ill. Panic at this point is the enemy. There might come a time when, like raw fear, it becomes our friend and can be used to help defeat Ebola, but that is not the case now.
Doug Terry, 10.18.14