Don’t worry, everything will be fine. We’ve got this under control. That’s the general message the American government has been sending its people over the last few days. Yet a closer look at the events surrounding the first confirmed Ebola outbreak on American soil forces us to question whether we’re truly prepared for the disease.
So far most American and Western leaders seem to have simply assumed that Ebola is a “third world” disease, one that couldn’t possibly cause problems for an advanced country. Even should the disease make landfall in American, Europe, or anywhere else in the West, it’s widely assumed that our health care systems will deal with it with relative ease.
Unfortunately, the first two situations involving Ebola in the USA, one being the treatment of aid workers from abroad, the other being a Liberian man falling ill within the USA, suggest otherwise.
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CDC Knows What It’s Doing. Everyone Else? Not So Much
At least when it comes to treating patients the CDC and other specialized response teams have already proven their mettle. Yet, on the wider scale it appears that most hospitals still have no protocols or procedures for dealing with the disease, and that means that their actually ability to handle patients is greatly constrained.
When Mr. Duncan, the Liberian man who brought the disease to the USA, went to a Dallas-area emergency room he was diagnosed with a low level infection and sent home with antibiotics. This comes after the man explained to the staff that he was traveling from Liberia, one of the countries that has been hardest hit by Ebola.
This should have sent off red flags, spurring the hospital to look at the patient more closely and to consider isolating him. Instead, he was sent back to the home he was staying at where he’d stay for several days and grow more ill.
Even when the CDC was in charge of treating two U.S. aid workers flown back from West Africa things didn’t go too smoothly. The CDC was able to successfully isolate the disease and treat the patients but found that it couldn’t dispose of the waste. The company normally in charge of disposing of it refused due to regulatory and safety concerns.
The CDC ended up working out a solution with the company and the government has released new guidelines. Still, most hospitals and waste management companies appear to be unprepared to deal with the disease.
Despite Seriousness of Ebola, Still No Travel Ban
Perhaps the most distressing question is why it was allowed to occur at all. The United States frequently issues travel bans and restrictions for political turmoil and other events. So why balk at a travel ban when one of the most deadly diseases known to humanity is ravaging West Africa?
Political turmoil might result in an innocent American getting killed in a cross fire, or after being targeted by extremists. A sad event, but the death toll will be limited. If a person brings back a disease, such as Ebola, and it begins to spread among the general population, the death toll could quickly become far higher.
Americans should be restricted from traveling to Ebola infected areas, and natives from said regions should also be restricted from traveling to the United States. It may seem harsh to restrict travel, and doing so could possibly tear families apart. The fact remains, however, that Ebola is a serious public safety threat.
Instead, borders remain open. While travel to West Africa has ground to a halt due to fears of the disease, travel from the region remains unrestricted. Who could blame someone living in the region for wanting to escape? Still, if they take the disease out of the country it could spell disaster.
And who knows whether amateur journalists and do-gooders will travel to the region to try to help. Could be that someone heads to the region to try to offer assistance, then returns home in a few months. And when they come back they could bring the disease with them.
The point here isn’t to panic, but we do need to start taking this disease seriously.