By Joe Alton, M.D – Contributing Editor, ModernSurvivalOnline
When I first wrote about Ebola early this year, I was hoping that it wouldn’t be a news item 6 months later. In my March 2014 article, I mentioned my concern about 86 cases and 59 deaths reported in the country of Guinea. The article you’re reading now counts 7500 cases and 3500 deaths in several countries. Dire projections by some experts predict more than a million cases before it’s done.
The biggest headlines have gone to a man named Thomas Eric Duncan, who was admitted with Ebola after arriving in Texas. Although he came into this country by false pretenses, I, of course, hoped that Mr. Duncan would survive. I wanted to believe that our system of disease control was so strong that we could overcome any illness if we could just put our high technology and resources to work.
I was wrong. Mr. Duncan succumbed to the disease Oct. 7. Would he have survived if he were admitted to the hospital when he first presented, instead of being sent home due to a failure in the chain of communication? Possibly, but mistakes happen. Could our medical system trump both infectious disease and human error? In the case of Thomas Eric Duncan, apparently not.
Since my first article on the subject, Ebola, like many viruses, has shown an ability to mutate. A team of Harvard scientists published a study in the journal SCIENCE in which they claimed to identify 250 different mutations in the Ebola genome. Most of these had little effect on the virus, but even the United Nations is concerned that a future mutation may cause the virus to be airborne.
In a previous article, I asked why it should matter to Americans that there is an Ebola epidemic in West Africa. Once Mr. Duncan hit the headlines, it was clear that we have plenty of reason to care. We have to care for humanitarian reasons and we have to care for selfish reasons as well. The U.S. should send as many resources as possible to the affected countries but must consider the protection of its own citizens as well. In my last Ebola article, I discussed why restricting travel might just make sense for both regions.
So it’s been a long and winding road this year on the Ebola front. It’s a front in the war on infectious disease and it’s not the only one. Enterovirus D68 has invaded 43 states. Chikungunya is ravaging the Caribbean and Latin America. Malaria is a long-standing issue in many areas. Yet, most of us aren’t prepared to prevent, recognize, or treat infections simply because we assume that others will do it for us.
They won’t. They can’t, if the number of infectious cases become so numerous that they strain the ability of a nation’s medical system’s ability to handle them. It’s happening in West Africa with Ebola right now.
As I write this, I’m hearing about an immense hurricane nearing Japan. For the United States, hurricanes and Ebola have one thing in common: We get warnings that allow us to prepare for them. Listen to the warnings, and you’ll avoid becoming a victim of either.