Ebola Update: The hysteria grows

Two possible cases of Ebola are in quarantine in Benin. Benin is a neighbor of Nigeria and there is a lot of commercial traffic between the two countries. It is not yet known if these cases are Ebola or something else, like Malaria.

The CDC and WHO have both labeled the outbreak a major public health emergency. The WHO wants to have all affected countries to declare a state of emergency. Some have, and already are using government troops to maintain quarantine and suppress demonstrations.

Thomas Frieden, of the CDC, says that while there is a possibility that a traveler who unknowingly had Ebola could arrive in the US, this would likely not lead to a large scale outbreak. The conditions and situations between West Africa and first-world healthcare are amazingly different and much better in more developed countries.

The Ebola virus, courtesy of Shutterstock

The Ebola virus, courtesy of Shutterstock

One major problem in both Africa and the US is the growing hysteria about Ebola. Some Africans believe that missionaries introduced it into Africa. That they are actively seeking body parts for transplant. That they need to hide family members with Ebola or else dump them at clinics and then flee. Some doctors are saying that Ebola is a hoax.

In the US, I’ve seen posts where the authors have confused Ebola with AIDS, made wild statements: Ebola is mutating to an airborne form. I IS already airborne. Ebola mutates faster that the flu. US government wants to decrease population. Almost none of this is supported by any evidence. Just fear, hostility, conservative talking points getting repeated, endlessly, without thinking. The government, CDC, NIH are all out to get us. They have drugs that will keep them safe while we’ll die. Then other posts obviously just made up from fear and trying to spread fear. It’s 90% fatal, it will kill all of us. It’s God’s punishment for “homosexism” in Liberia.

We need to combat this with facts from research, public information programs, sound information presented on news programs, etc. Public Health Departments need to get active and educate people about what Ebola is and what it isn’t. Now is the best time to do that while public interest is high and people are asking questions.

The CDC has some good educational material and several good links available here.

Mark Thoma, MD, is a physician who did his residency in internal medicine. Mark has a long history of social activism, and was an early technogeek, and science junkie, after evolving through his nerd phase. Favorite quote: “The most exciting phrase to hear in science... is not 'Eureka!' (I found it!) but 'That's funny.'” - Isaac Asimov

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17 Responses to “Ebola Update: The hysteria grows”

  1. docsterx says:

    I didn’t say that the anecdotal examples above were proof or even hard science. I used them as examples of how Ebola is not as wildly infectious as many people think. Compared to some viruses, Ebola has a very low incidence of infection.

    There is a very detailed mechanism for HOW it infects on the cellular level. I’ve described the methods of infection in other articles on Ebola that I’ve done and posted here. No need to repeat them. The precise mechanism can be found on line if you’re interested in looking for it. But the mechanism is irrelevant to this discussion.

    You’re only partially correct. It can be bloodborne, e.g. from being stuck with a needle contaminated with Ebola, but in many instances it is not bloodborne. It can be transmitted via infected body fluids that come in contact with broken skin or mucous membranes. In this Ebola outbreak virtually none of the cases has been bloodborne.

    What point are you trying to make regarding HIV transmission and Ebola?

  2. Bookbinder says:

    Actually, the assumed patient Zero infected his entire family who are all now dead.
    You don’t seem to have an answer for HOW it infects….just a surmise about how it has or has not spread. What you have related here is not science, it is conjecture. We appear not to know enough to offer such hard and fast answers. Mind you, I got such hard and fast answers (it’s blood born) from an Ex who was a CDC researcher and filled me in very very early in the HIV epidemic. It saved me. That’s all I’m looking for now.

  3. Ebola virus seems to be unable to control, and how we see?

  4. BeccaM says:

    It’s because something that could be done to remediate the damage being done to the biosphere by us humans — but it would cost money for the oligarchs.

    These other fears? Always take note that any so-called remediation for it MAKES money for the corporations and their masters. “Why your high blood pressure can kill you! No, don’t just get exercise and change your diet. You HAVE to take this expensive pill every day, too!”

  5. docsterx says:

    Nigeria is a little more sophisticated and hi-tech. The telecommunications industry has put up a website on Ebola and how to protect oneself. They have toll free hotlines with information. The government has produced videos that are shown on TV to help educate people about Ebola.

    In the other three countries, things are different. In Liberia, outside of Monrovia, there is almost no electricity. So electronic media is ineffective. Similar conditions exist in Guinea and Sierra Leone. They have people putting up posters, newspaper articles are run, police and military going house-to-house, talking to small groups, The governments have all opened hotlines on Ebola for those who can access them. They are advising people to not eat bushmeat, wash hands frequently, go to a clinic if they, or a family member develops symptoms of Ebola, etc. They are also dispelling rumors. One is that washing all over one’s body with warm salt water will kill the virus. This is going to be an uphill battle that is going to take a long time.

    In some areas, the military has enforced quarantine of some villages and regions to try to contain the spread of the virus. Isolating those infected along with education and enforcement of ruled to prevent spread are paramount right now.

  6. docsterx says:

    In addition to what Naja said, below, consider the following:

    Mr. Writebol was living with Mrs. Writebol when she first got symptoms. He hasn’t come down with Ebola as yet (I think that he still has a few more days left in quarantine.) Ebola symptoms tend to pop up about 8 days after exposure. He’s much closer to the 21 day mark. So doubtful if he would still get it. He would have had every chance to get it if it were airborne. Similarly with Brantly’s wife and children. Though they left before he got symptoms, they were still in the immediate area. They didn’t get it. Sawyer, the Liberian-American who brought Ebola to Nigeria, was actively vomiting on the plane as he flew in to Lagos. Vomitus is infectious. Yet, as far as I can see, NO ONE on the plane with him got Ebola. The Nigerian Ebola cases all seem to be healthcare personnel who treated him after he was on the ground. I’d suspect that, if Ebola could be transmitted via the airborne route, there would have been several passengers on the plane, crew, cleaning personnel who would have Ebola by now.

    Healthcare workers and missionaries often live in compounds attached to the hospital/clinic grounds. e.g SIM missionaries are returning to the US from Liberia. They were living onsite at hospitals. Not wearing protective garb because they weren’t actively treating patients. They haven’t got Ebola. Doctors and nurses wearing protective biocontainment equipment when they worked. Yet, off duty they weren’t wearing protective gear. They had Ebola patients coming into the area, going into isolation, etc. They didn’t get it.

    In a previous article here on Americablog, I mentioned an outbreak in South Africa. The two known cases weren’t suspected of having Ebola. One lived at home with her family, ill for several days before being diagnosed. She was a nurse who continued to work at a clinic while ill. The index patient, lived with friends while he was ill. Between the two, they had over 300 contacts. NONE of those contacts got Ebola. http://aravosis.wpengine.com/2014/08/ebola-outbreak-wasnt.html

    So, aerosolized human-to-human transmission? No evidence for that happening.

    Assume ANY body fluid can transmit it if the patient has Ebola. Blood, plasma, urine, sweat, feces, semen, vomitus, (also tissues removed from the victim, if the victim dies, his body is still infectious) etc. You can also get it from fomites (objects that can carry the infectious organism) like contaminated: shared eating utensils, cups, glasses, toothbrushes, etc.

    If you want more information, the CDC website has a lot and it’s not very technically complex. http://www.cdc.gov

  7. Naja pallida says:

    Behavior change is possible – when people feel directly in fear for their own lives. But there isn’t much comparison between Mexico and west Africa. The people of Mexico have a health care system of their own, don’t rely heavily on foreign doctors, and don’t have an innate distrust of foreign authority figures. So when education is attempted, they don’t immediately dismiss it as colonial aggression. Nobody in Mexico thought H1N1 was brought to them as an attack from perceived enemies, or as some kind of magical punishment from God. Most people in Mexico (at least in non-rural areas) also have easy access to water, where as in Liberia or Sierra Leone many people rely on easily contaminated community wells and rainwater collection – it’s estimated that only about a quarter of people in Liberia have access to a safe water source. While this puts them more at risk for things like Cholera than Ebola, it makes general sanitation and basic hygiene a significant contributor to the overall problem.

  8. Naja pallida says:

    In theory, it could be aerosolized through sneezes and coughing. But the CDC and WHO have been investigating this for about two years now. Ever since pigs infected monkeys in the same lab, even though they had no direct contact, but were kept in cages about 8 inches apart. They have found no evidence that the virus is capable of traveling and infecting through such a method. Plus, Ebola infects pigs lungs causing them to expel a lot more virus through coughing, while in primates, including humans, it tends to go primarily for the liver.

    Technically, any virus found in saliva or blood could theoretically be passed on this way, including HIV, but to my knowledge there hasn’t been a documented case. Now if you got some actual splatter on you from someone infected coughing or sneezing directly on you, that could certainly be a source of infection. But personnel that come close enough contact with known, or suspected to be, infected Ebola patients are supposed to be following strict protocols of covering skin and face to minimize the risk of that kind of exposure.

    If you happen to be about to get on a plane with a guy who looks really sickly, and is coughing all over everyone, you might want to rebook that flight… but chances are, it’s not Ebola you’ll have to worry about.

  9. perljammer says:

    Whenever I come across a story — especially on television — concerning a technical area in which I have expertise, the story is invariably chock full of misinterpretations, misrepresentations, and gross inaccuracies. I have come to believe that this most likely holds true for stories concerning technical areas in which I don’t have expertise as well, leaving me extremely skeptical of anything presented by a television talking head as “scientific fact”.

    It’s important to remember that mass media is not there to “decide where the truth lies”. The purpose is to churn up viewer interest and to sell soap.

  10. Bookbinder says:

    If anything at all, it’s god’s punishment for persecuting homosexuals.

  11. Bookbinder says:

    I have a question and this isn’t snark. They keep saying you can’t get EBOLA from casual contact, just from bodily fluids. Which bodily fluids, exactly? Because when one coughs or sneezes, one sprays saliva, nasal discharge and lung fluids into the space around them which others inhale. That sounds a lot like bodily fluid exchange to me. So what is the drill here. Why are they so sure when they don’t even know how this bug works?

  12. Bookbinder says:

    because the big corporations control the media and the news

  13. gratuitous says:

    Our faultless media (not meaning that they never make mistakes, but that they never admit them) gin up nontroversy over vaccines and their non-existent link to autism, abortion and its non-existent link to breast cancer, and ebola and its non-existent link to some sci-fi movie like The Andromeda Strain. Nobody knows why they get such basic factual reporting so wrong.

    Yet, when there is a near-consensus in the scientific community about anthropogenic causes of global climate change (and actual consensus among scientists who aren’t on the payroll of the extractive industries), the media just can’t quite decide where the truth lies. Again, nobody seems to know why that is.

    We live in puzzling times.

  14. 2karmanot says:

    Fortunately, the E-Coulter strain is not spreading.

  15. Indigo says:

    By “growing hysteria” I assume you’re referring to the inane media’s ignorant use of Ebola as a topic of false debate and over-worked story-telling.

  16. bkmn says:

    The missionaries that go to Africa have played an overly large role in making sure the people there are not well educated. People are much easier to control if they don’t have good information.

    Just today in Kenya they have introduced a “Stone the gays” bill because they want to “protect the children.” That is the rhetoric the fundamental right has historically used against the LGBT community that no longer works because people are out and friends and coworkers understand that gay people are not kiddie rapists.

    I predict that any African country that criminalizes gay people will see a sharp rise in HIV infections, much as they are in Russia right now with their gay bans.

  17. GarySFBCN says:

    Going back to H1N1 for a moment, I visited Mexico City and a few other places in Mexico during the outbreak (not working, just an ill-timed vacation). What was interesting is that EVERYONE was using ‘hand sanitizer’ and there were several successful educational campaigns to get people to wash their hands. I think it would be interesting for someone to review if people are still adhering to those protocols. But my point is that behavior change is possible, especially when the alternative is sickness or death.

    I’m wondering what types of educational campaigns there are in Nigeria and other countries that have been affected by Ebola? Isn’t that the best way to slow or stop the spread of this virus?

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