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Monday, October 27, 2014

Ebola Today: 10/27

One of the things that drives a Policy Geek crazy is, when it comes to Ebola, people irrationally blaming the President. Of course, one gets used to POTUS being blamed for everything. Benghazi, sure, Fast and Furious, yep, The IRS, ok, Immigration, yeah, it just goes on and on. But Ebola??? That one makes no sense at all.

In an effort to cut through the stupid, once again, we present: Ebola Today, 10/27.

People are going crazy about every detail of this PR nightmare. We call it a PR nightmare, because if everyone was just reacting to facts, this wouldn’t even be more than a blip on page 4 of any newspaper, a 2 minute segment at most on the Evening News. But no, we have a bunch of nonsense coming from all directions.

The Sign Language Guy
New York City Mayor De Blasio, in a press conference on Ebola, was accompanied by a man to the side of him who was translating for the deaf. CBS New York claimed the sign language interpreter for Oct. 24th press conference was “faking it.” There is video, and speculation. Tweets said he was signing song lyrics. Blogs written quoting CBS, etc. So is that true?

Of course, not. That poor guy is signing his ass off. The message is important, and deaf signers say he was getting that across, accurately. Here is a perfect example of what we are talking about. Here is a meaningful press conference, being given by a caring Mayor, being interpreted by a devoted sign language guy, with information people need to hear, and the only take away is that the CDC is “faking it.”

This is particularly troubling, the part where it is assumed that the CDC and the NIH are lying to us, or making things up. For instance, when Thomas Eric Duncan’s Texas nurse Amber Joy Vinson flew in and out of Texas, before being diagnosed with Ebola, there were reports that she had called the CDC about a fever before flying back from Akron to Dallas, and been given the go ahead. News stations were shocked. How could she have been contagious with Ebola, and have been cleared by the CDC to fly? Not surprisingly, that’s not exactly how it happened. Amber was contacted by Texas Presbyterian while in Akron, and asked how she was doing, which is standard protocol. She had a temperature of 99.5. The healthcare worker at Texas Presbyterian called that info into the CDC, who said she was cleared for travel, and that info was relayed to Amber. According to the CDC, a 100.4 temperature is symptomatic of Ebola. When she arrived back in Texas, she recorded a higher fever, immediately called it in, and sought treatment and quarantine.

The Poor French Speaking Children from Senegal
According to The Root, NBC New York, and Buzz Feed, last Friday, Oct. 24th, two Senegalese-American middle school students, 11 and 13-year-old brothers, were taken to the hospital on Friday after suffering a beating at the hands of their classmates, while the attackers chanted “Ebola! Ebola! Ebola!” The beatings were apparently motivated by some sort of fear of the Ebola virus, but local lawmakers are saying it is a hate crime. These bullies haven’t been taught any better, but whose fault is that? Where were the administrators? Where was the supervision?

Monday press conference at Harlem headquarters
of Association of Senegalese in America

Ousmane Drame, the boys’ father, explained that the children were born in the United States, but had been sent to Senegal to learn French. The boys arrived in the The Bronx three weeks ago (the proverbial 21 days), and were initially welcomed by their classmates. But as misinformation about the Ebola virus spread over the last two weeks, Drame said his sons had been cruelly harassed repeatedly leading up to the group attack.

“If they go to the gym, they don’t want them touching the ball – ‘Oh, you have Ebola, don’t play with us,'” Drame said.

Then, on Friday at lunchtime, a large group of students approached Abdou, the younger brother, and began the chanting, Ebola! Ebola! The group then attacked the boy, the father said, kicking and punching him in the face. When Amedou came to help his younger brother, he was also beaten. It must have been so frightening, and so unexpected. But are these children just reflecting their parents paranoia?

Should those middle school bullies living in The Bronx be scared of people from Senegal? Should we all be afraid?

The truth is only one case has been documented in Senegal, the country of origin of the children that were regularly bullied, and then attacked. That one Senegal case was reported almost two months ago, so on Oct. 18th the World Health Organization declared the nation of Senegal to be free of Ebola. No new cases have been documented in the 51 days since, more than twice the virus’s incubation period. Needless to say, these children weren’t anywhere near the one patient reported in Senegal at any time. But that doesn’t stop the hate, or the fear, or the ignorance, from spreading.

NY State Senator Bill Perkins was appalled, saying,
Already Ebola is a bullying crisis in our public schools, and in our charter schools. Our mayor needs to take some steps so that children in our public schools know what Ebola really is, and don’t go out and attack their fellow students.

If you ask us, Mayors everywhere need to hold public health meetings, as well as school assemblies, to talk about the truth, and hammer home the point that really, there is nothing to fear but fear itself. A teachable moment.

Can You Get Ebola When Someone Sneezes?
When your body first starts fighting Ebola, the body reacts by causing a fever. To be infectious with this virus you must have a really high number of copies of the virus in your blood. At that point, all of your blood vessels are spiderwebbing, practically disappearing, a process that can not be reversed. To be safe, if you have been exposed, and you develop a fever, call your local hospital. But running a low fever does not mean that there is enough of the virus in your blood to actually be able to infect anybody. Since all but one of the current Ebola patients in the United States are health officials, we need to have a certain amount of trust that they will sequester themselves the moment they show any fever. Again, those flying on the planes with the patients we are treating in the United States have not come down with it, and they were in a closed environment for hours and hours with those who are actually infected.

President Barack Obama gives a hug to Dallas nurse Nina Pham in the Oval Office

As for Thomas Eric Duncan, apparently you need a great deal of exposure, and exposure from a patient who is in the highly contagious stage, to catch the virus. That means exposed to feces, vomit, blood, etc. Duncan caught it while in Liberia helping a poor pregnant woman who was very ill. You can imagine the fluids there. When a person is in the later stages of the disease, as Mr. Duncan was when treated in Texas, liquid comes out of every part of them, and alot of it. That’s how Duncan caught it. Unfortunately, poorly trained staff in Texas allowed Duncan to go home, and then didn’t diagnose him immediately when he returned to the emergency room. That’s how his nurses got it. Bear in mind, Duncan is the only one that has died in the United States. He did not receive any plasma from a previously recovered Ebola patient, and he died. He’s the only patient treated in the United States for Ebola that did not receive that type of plasma infusion.

So feces from an Ebola patient, bad, and plasma from a recovered Ebola patient, good. A recovered Ebola patient can not get the virus again. So their plasma, once shared, is saving lives. This is very important. That’s why Obama made a point of inviting Nina Pham, that nurse from Texas who has recovered, to the oval office for a hug. She’s a hero. We can’t say that enough. And as of the writing of this article, both of Duncan’s nurses, Amber Joy Vinson and Nina Pham, have recovered, and have been released from hospital.

What we have to keep in mind, today, of all days, on Jonas Salk’s birthday, is we have a treatment. So as long as we have protocols, and those exposed monitor themselves for a fever, immediately quarantining themselves if they have one, we should be o.k. (Jonas Edward Salk was the American medical researcher and virologist, from New York City, who discovered and developed the first successful inactivated polio vaccine. Happy Birthday, Jonas.)

But We Hear That These Workers Took Precautions And Caught It Anyway
We have to remember that the process of medical care means that you are literally touching patients, regularly, and in that respect, it’s very difficult to come away with something like this. In fact, Thomas Eric Duncan’s family, who took care of him at home for a bit, have not contracted the disease. And those who spent time with Dr. Craig Spencer in New York, also have not shown any symptoms. So simply touching a patient, or sitting next to one, doesn’t do it.

So, again, how did the health workers catch it? We have to remember our doctors are rapping themselves with a lot of protective gear. That gear is very difficult to put on and off, as Dr. Gupta demonstrated recently on CNN. Especially, if you are trying to do it by yourself, without a partner, or without training. Some of these challenges can lead to unfortunate infections, but that’s what happens when people put themselves in harm’s way, and are willing to take care of patients with this disease. Health care workers are human too, and there are no reports of them having done all of the protocols perfectly. Although, if you listen to people on the street, they all say, “She did everything, and she still caught it. Time to freak out!! Ahhhhgggggg!!!”

Obama and recovered Dallas nurse Nina Pham in the Oval Office

The hysteria is building, and the worst thing we can do is start to attack each other over, what?, 5 cases of Ebola in the United States. Really? More people report seeing UFO’s every day in the U.S. What we have to do is keep level heads, teach our children to be kind, remind our friends not to spread misinformation and gossip, and perhaps, not travel to West Africa unless you are a health professional. Most importantly, we have to treat our health care workers as the heroes they are, and not like some zombies from Resident Evil.

Unfortunately, fear is in charge now, and fear gets what it wants.

Harry Cheadle of Vice magazine put it best today:

“I’m not sure when Americans got scared. Maybe the indigenous tribes of the plains spent evenings huddled in their teepees telling stories of twisted night creatures, maybe the nomads who trekked across that bridge from Russia to Alaska were running away from something. Whatever the case, by the time the white people showed up from across the sea and started putting women on trial for witchcraft and convincing themselves the natives were conspiring with Satan, fear was firmly established as the ruler of the continent and it hasn’t left since. The national anthem, like most of what you learn in elementary school, is mostly lies, forget the brave and the free, we’re the land of the terrorized, the home of the perpetually panicked.”

There is some good news. In New Jersey, nurse Kaci Hickox, who we wrote about yesterday, was discharged after testing negative for Ebola. So cooler heads prevailed there. After all, she was not symptomatic, and she tested negative twice.

What’s today’s takeaway? We have 316 million people in this country, more or less. And 5 cases of Ebola. Sure as shootin’, there are political operatives out there who know that fear can keep voters home on Nov. 4th. That’s a week from today.

Let’s keep it all in perspective, and not let them fear us into failure. So keep calm. And read this column. We’ll try to bring you everything we can, daily.

The Policy Geek

UPDATE: The director of the CDC said that active 21-day monitoring began Monday in seven states for air travelers who enter the United States from Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone, the hardest hit countries in West Africa. Those states with fear driven Governors are New York, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, New Jersey, Illinois, and Georgia.

Also, on Monday, a 5-year-old boy who recently visited West Africa, and had a fever, tested negative for the virus in New York, according to health officials. So if you hear about the young child in New York, you can tell your friends, he’s fine. Just a little kid with a fever. Like we see every winter, everywhere.

Lastly, according to MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow, it seems we are also putting our Army troops, those who have just completed a mission to set up Medical Facilities in Liberia, into 21 day quarantines In Italy, no visitors, even though they were never in contact with any Ebola patients while on the African continent. Again, fear is winning. Along with those troops, we have also quarantined our two star Major General Williams who is head of U.S. Army, Africa. That’s right, the man in charge of the Army in the entire continent of Africa is also in quarantine. This is policy that makes no sense. And we predict will cause more damage, than not.

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