Good news about Ebola and its terrifying mortality rate

Summary: We’re in the 12th month of this Ebola epidemic, in the 4th month since it escaped from Africa. While it still burns in 3 African nations, we have enough data to tentatively assess the predictions of the fear-mongerers about our vulnerability. Wrong, yet again. Seldom in history have the people of a great nation been so easily reduced to panic by such phantasmagoric warnings. We can learn and do better in the future. We must if we hope to prosper.

“Maybe it will all work out ok, but if you catch Ebola just remember your nice article calling anyone concerned chicken little as your lungs fill with fluid, and your shitting and vomiting blood.”
By Sam, October 14. One of the many terrified commenters, fruit of conservatives’ fear-mongering

“Note also that there are significant illegal immigrant flows from West Africa into Europe. This is bound to spread the disease, first to Europe and ultimately to us. ”
Another comment confidently forecasting doom, another triumph for the fear-mongers, October 20

Ebola
Ebola: it’s coming for you!

Contents

  1. Scorecard: Ebola in the West
  2. About that epidemic in the West
  3. The real epidemic in America: Fear
  4. The really bad news: West Africa
  5. Other posts about Ebola

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The best estimate of the index case for this epidemic is December 2013, in Guinea.  As of  WHO’s 31 October 2014 report, roughly 13,567 cases of Ebola have been reported, with 4,591 deaths, in 8 countries. Three countries have widespread and intense transmission: Guinea, Sierra Leone, and Liberia.

Now for the good news (ignoring for the moment our deplorable lack of assistance to the African nations afflicted). Four nations with infections are now free of Ebola (USA, Spain, Nigeria, and Senegal). And the confident predictions of 50 – 90% mortality in the developed nations have proven false, as some experts predicted. Such as Paul Farmer (Prof of Global Health, Harvard) in the October 23 London Review of Books:

“Here’s my assertion as an infectious disease specialist: if patients are promptly diagnosed and receive aggressive supportive care – including fluid resuscitation, electrolyte replacement and blood products – the great majority, as many as 90%, should survive.”

Here are the results so far, assembled from various news sources (hence might not reflect the latest news):

  • Nine people have been treated in the US. On 15 September 2014 Thomas Duncan contracted Ebola in Liberia, dying in America on October 8. Six additional cases came to the US from Africa for treatment; five recovered and one (Craig Spencer) remain under care. Two nurses in Dallas contracted Ebola; both recovered.
  • Three doctors were evacuated to Germany. Two from Sierra Leone: a Senegalese WHO epidemiologist who recovered and a Ugandan pediatrician who remains under treatment. One from Liberia, who died.
  • Three have been treated in Spain. Two people came from Africa; both died. One nurse in Madrid contracted Ebola; she recovered.
  • Two Dutch doctors were evacuated from Sierra Leone back to the Netherlands. Both recovered.
  • A nurse was evacuated from Liberia to Paris. She recovered.
  • A nurse, William Pooley, was evacuated from Sierra Leone to London. He recovered.
  • Silje Lehne, a Norwegian, health care worker, was evacuated from Sierra Leone to Norway — and recovered.

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Pandemic

Totals:

  • Three people contracted Ebola in western nations; all recovered. 100%, of a tiny sample.
  • Seventeen people contracted Ebola in West Africa and were evacuated to western nations. Four have died; two remain under care; eleven recovered (despite the delay before full treatment). Three-quarters have recovered from this small sample.

About that epidemic in the West

So far three people in the west have become infected, all nurses with direct contact to patients. Despite the hysteria sweeping America, there have been no cases of casual infection. Not even from those with close contact, such as Thomas Duncan’s fiancée. Not even in Europe, with its heavy population flows with Africa, and many nations with far small health care systems.

Also, methods to detect and quarantine infected travelers have improved immensely during the past two months. Today I visited a small suburban hospital, whose staff carefully inquired if I had visited Africa recently.

The data so far give no support to the doomsters. There are few, if any, precedents for such a disease so rapidly and thoroughly contained (despite modern transportation making this a global village). Also treatment methods are improving, along with research into development of new drugs. It’s too soon to declare the West safe, but the period of maximum danger has probably passed. Not that this will stop the fear-mongers.

More good news: some journalists have become more helpful, rather than part of the problem:  “Why AP isn’t moving stories for every suspected Ebola case“, Poynter, 17 October 2014.

The real epidemic in America: Fear

So far the epidemic has shown that our health care system works well, but the American people are the weak link in the Republic. We have become fearful, easily irrationally terrified. Our leaders (both Left and Right) ruthlessly exploit this weakness. The Republican’s fear-mongering dominated this election, as described in “Ebola and ISIS Are Making American Voters Go Crazy. Here’s How Irrational Fears Shape Elections.“, John B. Judis, The New Republic, 3 November 2014 — Opening:

Between October 21 and 25, House and Senate candidates ran 734 ads citing the threat of Ebola. Some candidates charged that by failing to secure the border with Mexico, Democrats were allowing cases of Ebola into the United States. North Carolina Republican Thom Tillis, who is running for Senate, warned, “We’ve got an Ebola outbreak, we have bad actors that can come across the border; we need to seal the border and secure it.”

Other candidates have linked border immigration to ISIS, suggesting that Islamist terrorists would be crossing the border to threaten Americans. The Republican National Committee ran an ad that concluded, “Vote to keep terrorists off U.S. soil.” Several candidates, including Kentucky Senator Mitch McConnell, included video from ISIS in their ads.

These ads may or may not sway voters, but they are responding to widespread fear of Ebola and ISIS. Voters regard the American response to these threats as being among the most important issues in this election. In an extensive AP poll taken in mid-October, 73% of likely voters ranked the threat ISIS and 74% the danger of Ebola as “extremely or very important.” A Harvard School of Public Health poll found that 39% of Americans believe that there will be a large-scale Ebola epidemic, and 26% believe that someone in their immediate family will get it.

For more about the fear epidemic I strongly recommend reading”The Pressure to Escalate: The Phantasmagoric World of Washington“, Tom Engelhardt at TomDispatch, 4 November 2014.  Click here to see all posts about the fear epidemic (I”ve been warning about this for years).

We can do better, starting with each of us looking at the “man in the mirror”.

The really bad news: West Africa

From the CDC’s weekly Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, 31 October 2014:
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CDC's weekly report: Ebola in West Africa
CDC, 31 October 2014

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Other posts about Ebola

  1. What you need to know about Ebola. Debunking the myths.
  2. An epidemic afflicting America: fear about Ebola. Avoid the carriers. Facts are the antidote.
  3. While Americans panic at shadows, Ebola strikes hard at Africa
  4. Lessons from Ebola. Let’s hope we learn.
  5. DoD shows its strength, mobilizing to protect us from Ebola (a sad story about America).
  6. We awake from fears of an Ebola pandemic in America. Now let’s ask who’s responsible…, 21 October 2014

Much of the hysteria results from our loss of confidence in experts; see posts about this problem here.

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11 thoughts on “Good news about Ebola and its terrifying mortality rate

  1. What do our foes think when seeing our panic, our fearful hysteria at a minor threat like Ebola?

    My guess: they see us as bullies, spiritually weak foes with big guns. Pants-wetting cowards defended by a few brave soldiers.

    How might they exploit that? Our weakness offers them a bounty of opportunities, if they have the wit to see and exploit them.

  2. They might invest some money into those political groups that specialise in fear-driven tactics. Or subvert any critical, rational groups and media outlets the same way -> Buy in, make your preference clear, lean back and enjoy…

  3. I think a big part of the reason why Americans are so afraid of the Ebola outbreak is because they’ve seen it all happen before, and they already know exactly how it will end. The experiences of a movie-going public says that disease outbreaks can only end with a complete collapse of civilization and/or zombies taking over the world. That’s what we’ve seen, so that’s what we expect.

    It makes you wonder what other Hollywood movie tropes might spark the next mass hysteria.
    How will we react if we start hearing reports of radioactive fallout, an impending asteroid collision, or giant monsters emerging from the ocean around the Pacific Rim?

    Here’s a list of the fears our leaders can exploit to gain wealth and power:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_disaster_films

    1. Todd,

      That’s a thought-provoking perspective on the impact of films on our thinking. This is, imo, an under-studied subject.

      The posts run here discuss films as mirrors of US society. Any suggestions or pointers to those looking at the reverse — films influence on US society?

    2. I would add to what Todd is saying in that Americans live naively in a Utopia/Apocalypse paradigm. If things go the ‘right’ way, life will be perfect and if they don’t, then everything is a disaster. If we look at the Ebola and ISIS situations, it’s as if people expect things to wrap up neatly like the end of a movie or a football game. At the end, it’s very clear who the winners and losers are, who the good and bad guys are, and the endpoints are clearly defined. Since Ebloa and ISIS are not so neatly defined or resolved, then we must be inevitably doomed and must therefore be terrified. Not only that, someone must be at fault. We want a Big Daddy or Mommy to make us happy, take all our fears away, and attack those bad people who have done is wrong and made us scared.

      I’m really wonder about the lack of courage and the loss of crucial thinking among our fellow citizens. I’m not sure about how many people can clearly differentiate between entertainment and propaganda vs. basic facts. Throw in a massive dose of fear-mongering, it’s easy to see why political scare tactics about Ebola work. Is it any wonder how the plutocrats and their minions can manipulate us so easily? The bigger question is what to do about this…a question for which I have no answer to.

    3. I am a little confused by the assertion that our free-thinking, liberal society is actually so different from the natural concept of human survivalism. We need food, shelter and companionship for the basics of a secure feeling in life. These movies tap into making the viewer uneasy by removing one or more of these. It is pretty simple as I see it.

      Do we expect the vast populace to discount these artistic attempts to entertain through fantasy?
      Do we expect the American population to logically assert the difference between the movie Contagion vs. the potential Ebola outbreak?

      The film showed in much greater detail, with slick graphics, compelling characters and insider views of the CDC how a germ can kill millions. Our own factual media and government regarding Ebola shows us nothing but the picture of the tubular virus…

      The problem is not with the Hollywood fantasy depictions of disaster, is it clearly with the way the real media reports actual threats. I think that is what you said to start the posting FM.

    4. Drake,

      All interesting perspectives on this, taking this line of thought deeper than I did.

      Inter-temporal comparisons are imo difficult, often impossible, to make. Are we better or worse at assessing risks than our ancestors? Esp considering the meaning of “we” — the middle class, or our ruling elites?

      Hence my focus on smaller, more operationally important questions — such as these matters as examples of our ability to govern ourselves. My belief, explained in these many posts, is that must do better or we’ll become subjects. It’s the great circle of life at work.

  4. Statistically, the average American appears more at risk of being murdered by OJ Simpson than of dying of Ebola.
    Recall the Beltway snipers panic when two guys with a rifle and an old Chevy paralyzed the Atlantic seaboard for 3 weeks.
    The herd seems easily panicked, for whatever reason.

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