Rationality, Fear, Hype and Response to Ebola


Written and collected by Zia H Shah MD, Chief Editor of the Muslim Times

October 16, 2014

“We have nothing to fear but fear itself,” are the famous words of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, popularly known as FDR.  These words are not always true, but often true and may well be true for most through this Ebola crisis except perhaps for those living in West Africa and the health care workers else where, two of whom caught the infection in a Dallas hospital, taking care of a patient, who had flown in from West Africa.

What applies to most has been nicely summarized in a Washington Post article, tilted: It’s highly unlikely that you’ll become infected with Ebola. So what are you so afraid of? It states:

This is how to get Ebola: Come into direct contact with the bodily fluids of a person who is infected with the virus and already symptomatic. Ebola doesn’t travel through the air. A person in Washington, D.C., can’t catch Ebola from an Ebola-infected person in Dallas without going there and coming into direct contact with the patient’s bodily fluids.

There have been 8000 cases of Ebola in Western Africa and 4000 of them have died.  In other words those who are diagnosed have a fifty fifty chance of living.  There may be milder cases that never come to attention and are not diagnosed.  At any rate, if you are in Western Africa and catch the virus, you can flip a coin to find your odds.

Rest of the article deals with every one else.

Recently, two million people gathered for Hajj in Mecca and Saudi Arabia’s Government made a smart decision of not allowing any one to come this year from infected areas.  We should give credit where it is due.  But, for this caution, the two million could have been spreading an epidemic in the rest of the world, a sure prescription for disaster.

“I am absolutely confident we can prevent a serious outbreak” of in the U.S., President Obama said yesterday.

President Barack Obama is promising a more aggressive approach to containing Ebola in the United States. A second worker with Ebola at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital is identified as a 29-year-old nurse. The nurse flew on a Frontier Airlines flight Monday, before showing signs of the disease, and the CDC is trying to contact all passengers aboard the flight.

As The Washington Post noted yesterday in a front-page story about the global health disaster: “This is both a biological plague and a psychological one, and fear can spread even faster than the virus.”

An example, from Wednesday: Mehmet Oz — aka Dr. Oz — went on television to pronounce that the epidemic could alter the world “as much as any plague in history.” Dr. Oz’s apocalyptic statement depended not on the realities of the disease as it exists now, but, he said, on “the question no one wants to ask, but everyone fears”: Will the Ebola virus mutate and go airborne? But, it has not yet.

What has happened though is that two health care workers caught the infection despite the precautions that were taken.  This is what needs a genuine response rather than what could happen in months or years to come.

The UK and the US have both introduced screening measures in response to the threat from Ebola, which has killed more than 4,000 people in West Africa.

Customs and health officials at Newark Liberty Airport will start taking the temperatures of passengers from three West African countries as part of a stepped up Ebola screening program.

Federal health officials say the entry screenings that starts today, adds another layer of protection to halt the spread of the Ebola virus that has killed thousands. Screeners will use no-touch thermometers to try to find passengers with fevers.

The first flight subjected to the screening in UK, left Liberia for Brussels on Monday night, with transfers coming into Heathrow.

High-risk passengers were flagged up to border control and passed on to health workers from Public Health England who then carried out the actual screening.

The Department of Health estimates that 85% of all arrivals to the UK from affected countries will come through Heathrow.

There are no direct flights to the UK from the three worst-affected countries – Liberia, Sierra Leone or Guinea.

But, the big question in my mind is what to do with the Ebola suspects or Ebola patients?

The first is an issue of training of health care workers and it is covered in the following CNN video:


But, the more important issue is what should the training involve?  What are the best practices and protocols to the best of our knowledge?  This brings us to the following CNN video:


Each hospital and healthcare system does not need to reinvent the wheel. We need to have a good start and all hospitals in the West can start off with the best practices in successful hospitals, like Emory University in this case, as noted in the video clip above, you just listened to.  The hospitals that are going to take care of Ebola suspects or Ebola patients can start off with the protocols, training and materials as used in Emory University.

The idea is simple but may have large dividends and avoid a lot of unnecessary fear and confusion.

With appropriate funding through NIH, we will have vaccines for prevention and better treatment options for Ebola.

Let us pool all the other good ideas out there in the comment section to save humanity from this potential epidemic.

4 replies

  1. Well, one thing is sure: With WHO’s appeal for one billion dollar they will be able to finance their Geneva Headquarters again nicely. As you may know, in the ‘Humanitarian Business’ you get the cash first, then you take what you think you need (for the Geneva Headquarters) and then for the rest you buy a few tents and body bags. (OK, a bit more…)

  2. Saudi’s were right to contain. A person may be early in infected state and spread this plague globally! A 21 day quarantine is not asking too much considering the consequences! And if you can get it thru a drop of sweat or other fluids it’s damn close to airborne!

  3. @Ghulam Sarwar & Najam
    This is the case with Humanity First as well as with Red Cross and all other charitable organizations and all religions without exception.
    Everyone is asking for money so they can do some good in the world and save some souls, physically or spiritually. The only difference is that some do and some don’t.
    WHO has been instrumental in improving the health of people around the world. Mr. Sarwar must have seen the survivors of small pox and polio. Small pox has been eradicated by efforts of WHO. Polio has become rare because of WHO. The list of achievements of WHO is long. So let us open our wallets and work with WHO not against it.

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