Ebola: No Touching!

September 22, 2014

Hospital TagFighting Ebola is like “chasing a rolling snowball” says the Economist—despite international efforts, the number infected is regularly doubling, and that will only escalate as it reaches more urban centers.

According to the CDC, half a million people could be infected by the end of January if we don’t start doing more (the US is sending in troops—I suppose that’s to help with local resistance: this weekend Sierra Leone had a 3 day lockdown to try and round up and quarantine Ebola patients and bodies—and they were met with some resistance). The risk that it comes to the US goes up more every week.

What’s it like in the infected countries? There are checkpoints everywhere where people can wash their hands with watered down bleach. Local customs are at a halt—when the dead are highly contagious, you can’t have people washing the bodies, or burying them anywhere they might contaminate drinking water.

People without Ebola are suffering from other medical problems, because resources are tied up with Ebola patients. It isn’t hard to imagine this being a problem even in first world countries should there be an outbreak!

And here’s the biggest change: a no touching policy. Even absentmindedly touching your own face ups your risk when you’re in an Ebola zone, and an outreached hand is something to be feared. One account even mentions a certain paranoia: seeing symptoms of Ebola in everyone you see.

What are the signs of Ebola?

Ebola has a 21 day incubation period—so anyone who’s been exposed has almost a month of waiting, and they become contagious when symptoms begin (often bloodshot eyes are the first sign). Soon, they’re too sick to spread it around town, and family members are at greatest risk for transmission.

That’s where countries like the US will have strength—people will have no problem seeing a doctor if they’re sick, and we could potentially keep things quarantined (trusting hospital competence and diligence, of course).

But it’s also where the US will be weak—can you possibly imagine police going door to door to collect anyone with a cold for quarantine, just in case it’s Ebola? Our police and our citizens are armed to the hilt—panic, resistance, etc. will be far worse here than it’s been there, even if only a few people do it.

Then there’s this: semen can potentially spread Ebola for 3 months after recovery. Given the problems we have fighting STDs and educating people about their health and bodies, it’s another weak spot where an outbreak might find a foothold.

What do you think? Are we doing enough to fight Ebola?

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