As Stupid Does

A barrel full of a nauseating-looking stew of what looks like sputum, blood and pus appears on the Nicollet Mall. 

Behind it is a large sign, set off by bright, blinking lights: 

BARREL MIGHT CONTAIN
HIGH CONCENTRATION OF
EBOLA VIRUS!

Exposure Could Very Possibly
be Fatal!

If true, do not Lick, Drink,
Rub on Skin or Smear on Face!

(Also, it might not.  You’ll have to
lick, drink or smear it on you
to find out what’s in the barrel)

Let’s assume there are three groups of people walking past this barrel:

  • Epidemiologists, Virologists, and other people with the medical and science background to know what a “Barrel full of Ebola virus” means – figure maybe 1/1,000 of the passing audience
  • People who without medical or scientific training, but who think the idea of licking, drinking, or rubbing a concoction rich in Ebola viruses on their face is a bad idea, and refrain from doing so
  • People who say “Yes, We Can!”, and lick, smear their faces with, or guzzle a pint of the concoction. 

Question: Of the three groups above, who are the stupid ones? 

Just curious.  

Parkas In The Third Circle

Joe Doakes from Como Park emails:

The Star Tribune runs an astonishingly even-handed report on politicians’ finger-pointing over Ebola funding.
The conclusion: they’re equally to blame. Which isn’t true, but is a far cry from Star Tribune’s reflex to blame Republicans.
The article points out CDC funding in 2010 was $6.8 billion, 2011 was $6.9 billion and then President Obama proposed to reduce it to $6.6. Yes, the President slashed $300,000 out of CDC funding. And Congress went along. So they’re all to blame.
What the article does not address is HOW the CDC pisses away that $6.6 billion. And that’s totally under the control of Democrats.

Joe Doakes

This Is How Stupid They Think You Are

SCENE:  The Admiralty, London, May, 1940.  Winston CHURCHILL is poring over a map in the Admiralty’s operation’s center, looking over the deteriorating situation in France.  He is joined by Admiral Nigel FRIEDEN, head of the Royal Navy’s public health wing.

CHURCHILL:  It is clear that we are going to have to evacuate the British Army from France.  In addition to a maximum effort by the Royal Navy, we’ll need thousands of civilian boats to help get the troops off the beaches and evacuate them from the Nazis. 

FRIEDEN:  I’m afraid that’s a bad idea, sir.

CHURCHILL:  Why do you say that?

FRIEDEN:  If we evacuate the Army, it will just make the occupation worse in England.  Also, we’ll have to use the fleet to evacuate Germans from England, too, then.

CHURCHILL:  That makes no sense.

FRIEDEN:  I’m an expert. 

NEXT SCENE: The US Air Force base at Wiesbaden, West Germany, June, 1948.  General Lucius CLAY, commander of US Military Government in occupied West Germany, is looking at a map of the Eastern Zone.  Ominously, red Soviet stars sit astride the three road/rail routes supplying West Berlin; the Soviets have just instituted a blockade, trying to starve West Berlin into the Soviet sphere.  Clay looks pensive.  He is joined at the map table by Brigadier (one-star) General Maximilian FRIEDEN, head of his public health corps. 

CLAY:  Blockade, schmockade.  We will need to start the greatest airlift in history to keep Berlin supplied.  It will show Stalin that we’re serious about

FRIEDEN:  We can’t, General.

CLAY:  What the hell?

FRIEDEN:  If we bring food, medicine and coal to Berlin, it’ll just make the hunger, disease and cold worse.  Also, for every load of supplies we bring in, we’ll have to bring a plane-load of Soviet spies and commandos back. 

CLAY:  Whose army do you serve?

SCENE:  April 1975.  As the North Vietnamese Army overruns Saigon’s last line of defenses, US Marine Brigadier General Richard CAREY is discussing the upcoming evacuation of Americans and certain Vietnamese from Saigon.  Artillery is heard in the distance, as CAREY makes the final plans to remove the last Americans, and as many Vietnamese as possible, from the Embassy compound .  He is addressing a group of officers, including State Department public health attache T. Morton FRIEDEN.

CAREY:  And so we’ll bring in the helicopters from the aircraft carriers.  We’ll get the last of the Marines out by 1800 hours. 

FRIEDEN:  General, that’s a bad idea.  Evacuating Marines will only make them more subject to Communist rule.  And for every helicopter full of Marines you remove, you’ll need to bring one full of Vietnamese back from the ships. 

CAREY:  (Stands, slack-jawed).

———-

CDC director Thomas Frieden is telling us that wejust can’tstop all flights coming in from West Africa, because…:

It’ll Make the Epidemic Worse:  Because ancient tribal burial rituals, lack of information about handling infections, and superstitions about healthcare workers aren’t bad enough; dispersing the epidemic all around the world must be ten times better!

If we stop air travel, we won’t be able to bring supplies:  That’s only true if all flights from West Africa are on disposable aircraft, or are kamikaze flights.  Planes can fly in the other direction.  Hopefully to drop off supplies and trained well-equipped healthcare workers.  And return empty, until the crisis eases.

I imagine Mr. Frieden knows this.  But judging by the last round of elections, it’s a lot for a plurality of Amerians to understand…

UPDATE: You think I’m selling Dr. Friedman short? 

Read this – especially Dr. Frieden’s interview with Megyn Kelly

It only looks like one of my parodies.

A Tale Of Three Nations

As the US flirts with Ebola panic, it’s worth noting that Nigeria – more corrupt than Chicago but probably not Camden, with ethnic and social divisions that would make the most hardened academic grievance-monger yak up her skull, and a nation that as a whole is like a Detroit that rarely ends – has managed to stop its Ebola outbreak pretty much cold.  20 were infected, and eight died – a tragedy, sure, but since the outbreak occurred in Lagos, a city of 21 million that is among the least hygenic metropolitan areas in the world, that seems fairly miraculous.   

Nigeria did it by doing the public-heath blocking and tackling that has stanched epidemics from cholera to malaria to dengue fever; isolating the infected and the infection, monitoring the exposed, practicing basic hygiene around the ill and the potentially ill. 

They knuckled down and did what needed to be done. 

Now, the US is one of the healthiest nations on earth.  Perhaps too healthy – modern parents’ mania for germ-killing may be hurting their childrens’ immune systems.  Worse, while some among our public health community are well aware of the dangers a virus like Ebola could cause, it seems there were several major breakdowns in the handling of the first case, Thomas Duncan, a Liberian living in Dallas. 

Will the CDC and the other public health authorities react appropriately to the outbreak?  Especially given that the CDC answers to an Administration that clearly values political correctness over competence? 

Let’s just say that this is one area where I’d love to think government was as competent as big government’s proponents tell us it is. 

The track record is mixed, of course. 

Through much of the last 100 years, between sound public health and public information, and world-leading research (thank you, free enterprise!), most epidemic diseases have been contained, and many former scourges have been nearly eradicated. 

And yet when the AIDS epidemic broke out, it quickly escaped the public health agencies’ ability to control it.  Part of it was the government’s response; in one of three mistakes he made as President, he kept the government’s response low-key. 

Of course, there was plenty of blame to shame.  Some countries contained AIDS using sound, traditional public health practices.  Cuba contained its outbreak far more quickly and effectively than the US, using sound, traditional public health techniques including quarantining the infected…

…which were politically untenable in the US; as the gay rights movement gained traction, the idea of focusing public health efforts on gay culture, much less quarantining gay male patients, as the Cubans did), became politically incorrect. 

(And since some liberal will no doubt read the above as “Mitch Berg calls for quarantining teh gay” – I’d say the same thing if there were a 100% lethal, contagious, viral disease that spread via the behavior of straight Presbyterian conservatives; public health is public health). 

Will the Obama Administration react any better to this crisis than they did the last several?  There’s always hope.  The President certainly isn’t getting useful advice from some of his supporters (hint to MSNBC hosts and other illiterates; the CDC needs a surgeon general to react to an epidemic about like the IRS needs a director to process your 1040 form; Obama needs to quit politicizing public health.  Oh, wait – there it is again!).

Fingers crossed.

Airborne

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…

Perspective

As the panic industry gears up to make its obligatory buck or two off the Ebola epidemic, the bastion of empirical sanity, PopMec, chimes in with some common public health sense:

However, despite its severity, Ebola is an unlikely candidate to cause widespread epidemics. Ebola outbreaks in humans begin with direct contact with an infected animal. In Africa, fruit bats are considered to be natural reservoirs for the disease, but chimps, gorillas, and antelopes are also known to carry the infection. Currently there are no natural reservoirs for Ebola outside of Africa, which means it’s a lot less likely that Ebola could establish itself anywhere else, says epidemiologist Stephen Morse, from Columbia University.

After the initial transmission from animal to person, the disease spreads from person to person through direct contact with the blood, saliva, and other bodily fluids of infected people. Compared to airborne diseases, which have pandemic potential, the spread of Ebola is slow because it relies on direct contact. And because it kills its victims so quickly, there isn’t much time to spread the disease to others.

In developed countries, the spread of Ebola can be thwarted by isolating infected patients and wearing protective clothing. “Standard hospital hygiene goes a long way,” says Matthias Borchert, an epidemiologist at Berlin’s Charité University of Medicine.

The bad news?  US hospitals are bad enough at “hospital hygiene” that 75,000 people a year die of more mundane, less panic-worthy infections – Strep, C-Diff and an array of others deadly but less newsworthy bugs.

Read the whole thing, though, and pass it on to some of your less-informed friends. 

This country is at less risk of a “zombie apocalypse” from any virus than from the news coverage about the virus.