THE TV – “In other news,” the anchorman intones, then goes on to tell about wars, hopes for peace, etc. Notice what he did not say, what did not happen? Not a single panic-stricken word about Ebola. In America it is the Disease That Dissolved. When was the last time you heard any mention of Ebola? For a time the nation was terribly frightened about the disease. Every TV network news show began with that story, aided by maps, pictures of men in haz mat suits wheeling a canvas-covered stretcher through the back door of a hospital, and we heard from learned medical experts who kept saying for us not to worry, or not to worry too much, because the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) had it under control. We preferred to panic.
Much of this overwrought fear was encouraged by the press. Its mistakes are pointed out ad nauseam, and some of the media did indeed drop the ball on this story, scaring the bejesus out of us. I had a friend who cancelled a business trip to New York City because a doctor had returned there from West Africa and everyone was in a state of panic because Typhoid Mary could infect all of Gotham. Two school girls who moved to New Jersey from Rwanda were kept from attending their first week at an elementary school for fear of the disease spreading. But Rwanda is nearly 3,000 miles — actually 2,775 miles — from West Africa where the Ebola outbreak occurred. That is farther than Los Angeles is to New York City. What? We worry? Last October Glenn Beck screamed about how government incompetence is “literally going to be the death of all of us” and declared that millions of Americans should demand a ban on travel from West Africa. Dr. Beck also said that the Ebola crisis will spiral out of control, because: “Every time somebody new gets the Ebola virus, it mutates.” It didn’t and it doesn’t.
The scare hit close to home in Texas when, as we remember, Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital in Dallas sent an ailing Thomas Eric Duncan home with aspirin to take for his illness. Turns out Duncan had Ebola and died soon afterwards. The mistake cost the City of Dallas $155,000 including $27,000 to quarantine and observe the dog of a nurse who became infected. In addition, the hospital said it lost $1.8 million in revenue. Some official guesstimates didn’t sooth our worries. The CDC estimated that by Jan. 20, 2015, (that’s about now) there would be a total of approximately 550,000 Ebola cases in Liberia and Sierra Leone. The World Health Organization (WHO) said as of Jan. 14, 2015 there were 21,296 total deaths from Ebola. WHO and the CDC admit the figures are underestimates, given the difficulty collecting the data. I found Ebola figures all over the chart.
Now we come a really stupid situation. For 17 months during this time of vaccines, haz mat suits and fear, the U.S. did not have a surgeon general. One had been appointed by President Obama: a highly regarded physician, Dr. Vivek Murthy, an MD and an MBA who practices and teaches at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and teaches at Harvard Medical School. But the NRA told Republican Congress members not to approve the nomination because a group Dr. Murthy had founded, Doctors for America, supports stricter gun control laws, including background checks, mandatory safety training and banning certain semiautomatic weapons. He finally got the job — the Senate vote was 51-43 – but the Ebola chaotic fire drill might not have happened if Dr. Vivek liked semiautomatics. Incidentally, why does our surgeon general always dress like an admiral? Why do we see TV ads of some Swiss guy blowing an Alpine horn as a voice sings out; “Eeee-bow-la!” And why did we name the plane that dropped that A-bomb on Hiroshima the Ebola Gay?
Now we consider how Ebola began, why is it called that and what about the chocolate crop? Scientists say the disease first appeared in 1976 in two simultaneous outbreaks, one in the Sudan and the other in the Republic of the Congo. The latter occurred in a village near the Ebola River, thus the name. Good thing it wasn’t first spotted in Waco or Pampa. Medical experts thought Ebola originated in gorillas, because human outbreaks began after people ate gorilla meat. That pretty well narrowed it down in my neighborhood. Then suspicion spread to humans having close contact with the blood, secretions, organs or other bodily fluids of infected animals such as chimpanzees, gorillas (again), fruit bats, monkeys, forest antelope and porcupines found ill or dead in the rainforests. That included most of Texas. The latest suspect is just the fruit bat, so carefully read the contents label on your soup can.
About the threat to your M&Ms, Snickers Bars and Butterfingers: One of Ebola’s deadliest regions is the Ivory Coast, the world’s largest producer of cacao, the raw ingredient in those candy bars. The Ivory Coast has yet to experience a single case of Ebola, but shut down its borders with Liberia and Guinea, virtually halting the workforce needed to pick the cacao beans just as the harvest season begins. Prices are already rising.
Finally, as we can see, it is impossible to get accurate figures on the number of Ebola sickness and deaths in West Africa, but we should give the poor beleaguered CDC and this nation’s other trained health professionals a round of applause (wearing Latex gloves) because in the U.S. the only people who died from Ebola were two who had arrived already carrying the disease. (Compare that to flu deaths during the same time.) Others contacted it here but survived, even the nurse’s dog. So despite all the viewing-with-alarm, showboating public officials and media overkill — or maybe because of it – thus far we have dodged a bullet. But no one thinks about what didn’t happen.
Ashby feels ill at email@example.com