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Ebola does Dallas

Americans have good reason to think their government could be less effective than advertised at containing an ebola outbreak, and less than candid about its shortcomings.

If you picked September in your office “When will Ebola hit the United States?” pool, you barely eked out a win, as the first confirmed case was announced by the CDC on Tuesday.  The victim is a traveler from Liberia who was in the U.S. to visit relatives, according to the UK Daily Mail.  And yes, there’s a chance he infected others, because when he first visited the hospital, they thought he had the flu, so they shot him up with antibiotics and sent him home:

The man with the first case of Ebola diagnosed in the U.S. went to hospital feeling sick only to be given antibiotics and be sent home.

It was not until two days later that the man was admitted to the Dallas hospital and put in isolation, it has been reported.

It raises the frightening prospect that he was mixing freely with other people for a full two days while showing symptoms of the virus – the time when Ebola is most contagious.

The unidentified patient has been in isolation at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital since Sunday, officials said. The hospital has launched a review into the delay.

Scott Gordon, a reporter for KXAS, tweeted ‘Hospital reviewing why patient wasn’t properly diagnosed on Friday when he was evaluated and sent home. Dismissed with antibiotics.’

Why, yes, that’s an excellent question.  Why wasn’t a man from freaking Liberia who turned up at the hospital with flu-like symptoms – but was actually carrying Ebola in its most active, contagious stage – screened more carefully for Ebola?  Follow-up question: why are we allowing air travelers from the ebola hot zone to roam freely in the U.S. without the most careful testing?

This is one of the reasons Americans are so worried about Ebola: we live in a sad-sack can’t-do era of pervasive incompetence and dishonesty.  After watching mega-failures like ObamaCare and the Department of Veterans Affairs… after watching the President of the United States lie on national television in order to evade responsibility for his own foreign policy decisions… after watching everyone from Attorney General Eric Holder, to IRS officials, to the director of the Secret Service follow Obama’s lead, using lies and obfuscation to avoid the consequences of ineptitude and abuse of power… we have every reason to believe the authorities could screw up the response to Ebola, and even more reason to think they’ll be less than honest with us if that happens.  Certain titans of private-sector industry haven’t covered themselves in glory over the past few years, either.

I strongly believe the elite Beltway-New York media axis underestimates the crisis of American confidence in the system, in part because so many in the media are active cheerleaders for the Obama Administration.  They’re so busy shaking their pom-poms that they can’t see all the frowny faces and rude gestures coming from the bleachers.  It’s difficult to point to anything the government has done well recently, or any instance in which they’ve been completely candid with us.  And Big Media has been complicit in many of the cover-ups, or at least willing to indulge them until the stories decay into “old news.”  Even when they’re not actively working to suppress stories, which is something they spend a shocking amount of time doing in the Obama era, Big Media gets the details of breaking news wrong with distressing regularity.  How often have we reached Day 2 or 3 of a big story to find much of what was reported on Day 1 was inaccurate?

It’s an attitude more properly described as informed cynicism  than paranoia.  In the matter of Ebola, this cynicism is bolstered by knowledge that world health authorities have underestimated the severity of the outbreak every step of the way.  In a span of months, we’ve gone from “don’t worry about Ebola, it’s an African village problem and it’s contained,” to a plague that has killed thousands of people (there isn’t even an accurate count of the dead) and brought the deployment of more American ground troops than ISIS is getting.  And the U.S. troops in Africa will be on the front lines, possibly against more than the virus itself, as they could face everything from bandits and local government thugs looking to steal supplies, to villagers who have begun attacking doctors in a misguided attempt to keep Ebola out of their territory.  

The pace of the epidemic is picking up, and the collateral damage is almost as horrifying as the deaths from Ebola.  Fox News reports that “a recent update from the World Health Organization showed that more than half the cases in Liberia happened in the preceding 21 days,” in a story about thousands of orphan children at risk because they were “shunned from society” after Ebola killed their parents.  The affected nations are complaining that the measures needed to contain the outbreak, such as cancelling air travel into the region, are crippling their economies and making it harder for them to provide health services, a horrendous downward spiral.

The sheer horror of what Ebola does to its victims is also a component of American anxiety, as is the utterly foreign nature of the virus.  It’s something we just don’t have in the United States, and we expect our lavishly-funded government to keep it out.  “I think a ‘handful’ is the right characterization” for the number of people the Dallas victim might have come into contact with before he was isolated, according to a CDC doctor quoted by the Daily Mail.  The CDC is working diligently to track those people down and test them.  If a “handful” of people end up contracting Ebola in Texas because of this, it would be virtually nothing by the standards of epidemiology, absolutely horrible for the victims and their families, and psychologically devastating to the American people.

Also, we’re already dealing with a mysterious viral outbreak that seems to have baffled the authorities: the EV-D68 virus.  It’s a previously obscure strain of the common cold, with only  a handful of recorded cases in the U.S. on the books before this year… but it’s sent almost 300 children to intensive care through late summer and fall of 2014, and it’s probably infected far more people than we know about, because for most victims it presents as nothing worse than a bad headcold.  (Children who already have respiratory problems are affected far more severely; thankfully, there have been no reported fatalities as of yet.)  The outbreak began in the upper Midwest but spread farther and faster than anticipated, even allowing for the viral hoedown that normally accompanies kids going back to school.  And now it may be producing totally unanticipated side effects in a few young patients, as reported by the New York Times:

Driven by a handful of reports of poliolike symptoms in children, federal health officials have asked the nation??s physicians to report cases of children with limb weakness or paralysis along with specific spinal-cord abnormalities on a magnetic resonance imaging test. As a respiratory illness known as enterovirus 68 is sickening thousands of children from coast to coast, officials are trying to figure out if the weakness could be linked to the virus.

The emergence of several cases of limb weakness among children in Colorado put doctors on alert in recent months. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued an advisory on Friday, and this week, other cases of unexplained muscle weakness or paralysis came to light in Michigan and in Missouri.

The C.D.C. is investigating the cases of 10 children hospitalized at Children??s Hospital Colorado with unexplained arm or leg weakness since Aug. 9. Some of the children, who range in age from 1 to 18, also developed symptoms like facial drooping, double vision, or difficulty swallowing or talking.

Four of them tested positive for enterovirus 68, also known as enterovirus D68, which has recently caused severe respiratory illness in children in 41 states and the District of Columbia. One tested positive for rhinovirus, which can cause the common cold. Two tested negative. Two patients?? specimens are still being processed; another was never tested.

It is unclear whether the muscle weakness is connected to the viral outbreak. ??It??s one possibility we are looking at, but certainly not the only possibility,? said Mark Pallansch, director of the C.D.C.??s division of viral diseases.

The EV-D68 outbreak has produced some dark suspicions that the government is being less than candid about its origins – there are some who think this particular strain was brought into the United States by the immense wave of Unaccompanied Alien Children from Central America, which included many kids with health problems – a fact concealed from the American people as long as possible – who were swiftly distributed across the country, another Administration plan we weren’t supposed to know about.  (In fact, the government still refuses to say exactly where all of them were sent.)  There are logical reasons to believe EV-D68 was not endemic among the Unaccompanied Alien Children; there haven’t been any reported cases in some states known to receive a large number of them.  But no one really knows how the Midwestern outbreak began.  It could have been spread by a relatively small number of original carriers.  We know only that there have been very few recorded cases in America before now, and the last one was decades ago.

So while all the “Don’t Panic” articles circulating this morning are full of sound advice, it’s not inexplicable or entirely irrational for the American people to worry that a true Ebola outbreak might not be handled as well as the authorities promise.  We have good reasons to be skeptical about the promises of the authorities these days.  It’s true that the precautions to avoid Ebola contamination are fairly straightforward – it spreads through contact with infected bodily fluids, during a fairly small window of time in the life-cycle of the virus.  Over-reaction is both unwarranted and counter-productive.  The last thing Dallas, or any other American city, needs is a mass of people with mild flu symptoms clogging emergency rooms and demanding ebola tests.

However, we’ve seen a few medical professionals become infected, despite their advanced training and equipment.  If there’s one thing we know for sure about this strain of Ebola, it’s unforgiving.  One of its side effects has also been a crisis of confidence in the authorities of nations affected by the outbreak, manifested most severely through those African villagers fearfully attacking doctors, and urban residents refusing to visit hospitals for fear they might contract Ebola.  The symptoms would be considerably different, but the American system currently has low immunity against a such a viral crisis of confidence.

Update: Some good news from Reuters: the city of Dallas says all three members of the ambulance crew exposed to the Ebola victim have tested negative for the virus.

Update: I’ve gone back and capitalized every reference to Ebola, having found a Washington Post dissertation on why it should be capitalized persuasive.  I think I saw it rendered lower-case the first few times I read about it, and the habit stuck with me.  I considered keeping it lower-case in an effort to shame the virus and attack its self-esteem, but I decided we don’t need another stylebook squabble like what to call ISIS/ISIL, or how to spell the name of the late dictator of Libya, so “Ebola” it is.

Update: And now for the bad news: USA Today reports a second possible Ebola patient is under observation after possible exposure through close contact with the original patient.

Written By

John Hayward began his blogging career as a guest writer at Hot Air under the pen name "Doctor Zero," producing a collection of essays entitled Doctor Zero: Year One. He is a great admirer of free-market thinkers such as Arthur Laffer, Milton Friedman, and Thomas Sowell. He writes both political and cultural commentary, including book and movie reviews. An avid fan of horror and fantasy fiction, he has produced an e-book collection of short horror stories entitled Persistent Dread. John is a former staff writer for Human Events. He is a regular guest on the Rusty Humphries radio show, and has appeared on numerous other local and national radio programs, including G. Gordon Liddy, BattleLine, and Dennis Miller.

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