Fun Ebola Facts #1 and #2

It’s been years since I’ve blogged, but I might as well start up again now. I don’t feel like watching TV tonight, so why not kill some time correcting some of the misperceptions regarding Ebola and the US response that I keep seeing on Facebook?

I have to say that this is also an interest of mine, which is why I’m happy to share my opinions on the topic. I spent several years working on emergency preparedness at the federal level. I was surprised by the legal constraints on the federal government, That’s part of what led me to law school. (I will also say that I was very impressed by the thoughtfulness of the really smart people who have spent entire careers thinking about preparing for emergencies much, much worse than Ebola.)*

Fun Ebola Fact #1

Misperception: We should shut down the borders to travelers from West Africa.

FACT: That won’t work. For several reasons.

First off, people travel all around the world. The gentleman who died of Ebola in Texas flew to the US from Brussels. I believe he flew on a connecting flight, so we might have known where his trip originated. But suppose he traveled by car to Egypt, then flew to Istanbul, then thru Paris to the U.S. Would we know that? I doubt it. Especially if he crossed a border illegally somewhere and wasn’t registered by the immigration services.

Second, people ignore those types of orders and find ways around them.  For instance, a few years ago there was a US citizen who flew to Italy who had been diagnosed with XDR TB (extensively drug resistant tuberculosis). While the government was working to bring him back to the US safely, he ignored instructions and flew commercial flight to Canada and then drove across the US border. You can read about that here.

Fun Ebola Fact #2

Misperception: The failure of the CDC to enforce infection control procedures in Dallas are why the two nurses got infected.

FACT:  It’s not the CDC’s role to enforce infection control procedures in hospitals.

We live in a federalist system, which means the federal government only has the powers granted to it in the Constitution. The remaining powers (such as the “police powers” — the power to protect the health and safety of citizens) are powers reserved to the states by the Tenth Amendment. While the CDC has had protocols for health care workers posted on the web, it is the states’ responsibility to manage health and public health within their state.

The CDC doesn’t even have the power to go in and quarantine individuals. As explained here, the CDC only has authority to isolate or quarantine individuals trying to enter the US or moving between states.

What Should You Do?

There are a few things you can do:

  1. Get a flu shot. You’re much more likely to die from the flu. Depending on the severity of the flu season, over 40,000 people die each year from influenza. Only one person has died from Ebola in the United States ever!
  2. Wash your hands. Always good advice.
  3. Call your Congressman and ask if they supported the President’s funding request for responding to Ebola in West Africa. The best chance at preventing further spread to the US is to help the international community contain it in West Africa by supporting the health and public health systems there.
  4. Stop using Ebola as a political topic. You can be a better person than that.  While I don’t think we have any need to panic, this is a serious disease that is likely to kill a lot more people around the world before it is brought under control and has nothing to do with which political party is in charge.

Next Fun Ebola Facts?

Have a question or concern about Ebola or the US response? Post it in the comments and I’ll see if I have any facts or opinions that I can use for the next post.

* Now that I no longer have to think about these things, I sleep A LOT better at night.

Disclaimer:  Obviously, these are just my opinions, except for the parts that are facts.

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