Ebola Doom and Gloom vs. Optimism

You can’t help but wonder whether the United States is being overly optimistic, or if the United Kingdom is being overly full of doom and gloom in the heat of the Ebola crisis. The U.S. headlines are full of cheery stories, but the BBC headlines aren’t as optimistic, offering statistics such as a “best case scenario” that only 1-in-50 health care workers in Liberia will become infected with Ebola, or to spread awareness that the Ebola virus remains active in a man’s semen for up to 90 days.

While the U.S. headlines are focused on nurse Kaci Hickox and her battle against being quarantined after treating Ebola patients in western Africa, the BBC headlines of November 2, 2014, warn that Ebola is spreading frighteningly quickly in Sierra Leone, nine times faster than it was two months ago. This came one day after a story of hope that Ebola cases are leveling off.

So which is it? Doom and gloom, or the rainbow peeking out from behind the clouds? Even the hopeful story sounds decidedly gloomy when you read past the initial suggestion that cases are leveling off. The article goes on to say that the discrepancy is explained by which region you are reporting on. “Leveling off” in one area and “growing exponentially” in another allows the media to slant the news in a specific direction, maybe to avoid spreading fear at the onset of the holiday season in the U.S. with Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, New Year’s, and other holidays approaching.

In the meantime, it seems as if every day we are hearing about yet another country closing its borders or at the least, limiting access or instituting travel bans. Canada, Australia, North Korea, Senegal, Ivory Coast, Chad, South Africa, Cameroon, Cape Verde, Kenya, Colombia, Jamaica, Haiti, Guyana, Belize, and other Caribbean, African, European, and Asian countries have all implemented Ebola travel restrictions or Ebola travel bans to keep the virus from spreading into their countries.

The debate over travel bans is explored in an NBC news story which presents the reasons why the United States is against Ebola travel bans.

The European Centre for Disease Control in Copenhagen (ECDC) stated in a PDF that temperature screening would miss up to 20% of EVD cases (Ebola virus disease). Temperature screening would miss travelers concealing their fever, and temperature screening would miss two-thirds of infected cases who were still incubating and haven’t yet presented with symptoms. In addition, up to 13% of Ebola patients do not initially present with a fever. Thus, screening for fevers may catch some, but not all Ebola carriers. It is not the guarantee that is being publicly peddled.

Nigeria, which does not border one of the Ebola hot-zones, is considered Ebola-free, after they took aggressive actions to nip the virus as soon as it entered their borders. One man flew into Nigeria only to collapse at the airport, spawning 20 more cases. Initially he was diagnosed with malaria, only to later test positive for Ebola. They did not wait for an epidemic to hit — Nigeria immediately declared a state of emergency and got on top of the situation. So did Senegal, and now both countries are Ebola-free.

Senegal banned all flights from three Ebola-ravaged countries: Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone. Two other African countries, Ivory Coast and Nigeria, have also restricted flights from their near-neighbors.

Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone are clustered together on the coast. Mali (reporting the latest case to cross borders) is adjacent to Guinea, and Senegal. Nigeria is not, and the few cases it had stemmed from one man who flew in on an airplane. The affected region is a very small corner of a very large continent and if we can keep it contained, there’s a good chance of eliminating it.

Two countries to watch are Mali and the Democratic Republic of Congo, both of which have reported cases, and both of which could throw open the door of it spreading through the rest of the African continent. Let’s hope that our selfless medical teams from around the globe can prevent that from happening.

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