The President is discussing sending 3,000 US military personnel to the heart of the Ebola outbreak, in west Africa.
The proposal has brought out the crazy…on the right. To be fair, it’s only comment-section trolls, for the most part, but the claims – “Obamawantsto introduce Ebola to the US” – take me back to the glory days of Bush Derangement Syndrome; again, to be fair, it’s comment-section chum on the right, and MSNBC commentators on the left, but it’s still depressing.
Am I dismayed that Obama is sending troops to Africa when he isn’t securing the border? Sure. With that out of the way? Not all troops do the same job; Obama’s Africa mission would, according to the reports I’ve read, be engineers and civil affairs types to build lots of Ebola treatment centers fast, and people to get the logistics, which are non-functional in large swathes of these godforsaken countries, working to the point that clinics have supplies again. So that we can tamp down this epidemic before it kills a third of Africa, and leaves us with an epidemic that we really can’t keep from entering the US?
And whether you agree with Obama’s priorities or not, I ask you – what organization in the US can handle building things and moving supplies into hellholes, while keeping themselves safe from a biohazard?
“But the troops’ll catch Ebola”. Not if they avoid physical contact with the patients or corpses – and these folks aren’t doctors or nurses.
“But it’s airborne!”
Well, no – it’s not, and it probably won’t be anytime soon.
Partly, it’s evolution: Ebola hasn’t evolved into a respiratory virus…:
Even viruses that are well adapted to attacking the respiratory system often have a hard time getting transmitted through the airways. Consider the experience so far with avian flu, which is easily transmitted through the air in birds but hasn’t yet mutated to become easily spreadable in that fashion among people.
What’s the hold-up? “The difficulty is that those [flu] viruses don’t have the protein attachments that can actually attach to cells in the upper airway. They have to develop attachments to do that,” Schaffner says. So even if a virus were exhaled, it would need to lodge onto something in another person’s cells that are already prepared for it in the upper airway. “Since the virus doesn’t have attachment factors that can work in the upper airway, it’s very rare for it to go human to human, and then it almost always stops and doesn’t get to a third person,” Schaffner notes. Similarly for Ebola, the virus would have to develop attachments that would allow it to easily attach receptors in the upper respiratory pathway — something that neither it (nor any of its viral cousins) has been known to do in the wild.
…because it hasn’t needed to:
And yet Ebola already spreads very easily without such mutations. The delicate lock-and-key protein–virus fit required for the virus to successfully latch onto and replicate in the airway has not developed because there is no evolutionary pressure for it to do so; it simply would not be an efficient option. Epidemiologists can take some comfort in that.
I’d rather see troops latching onto illegal immigrants and building fences along the Rio Grande, too. But if we accept the idea that the military has a business doing humanitarian missions, and that the Ebola epidemic is worth getting on top of once and for all, there are dumber decisions to make…