What happened to Ebola?

The Ebola outbreak was one of 2014’s biggest stories. But now, by the year’s end, we rarely hear about it. So what happened?

For one, the survival rate among patients is improving, at least in Sierra Leone. Among patients admitted since November 4 to a particular clinic in Sierra Leon’s capital, only 24 percent have died.

All this has led to a smaller number of cases than the CDC expected by year’s end. One of its estimates put the January 2015 number at 1.4 million cases—73 times higher than the 19,000 cases reported by December 21 (that’s embarrassing!).

Ebola also failed to show up in the United States after the most recent confirmed case in New York City on October 24, and those Americans who did contract Ebola fared fairly well on average—just one in four died of the disease.

So to sum up, Ebola didn’t turn out to be as big of a deal as either the CDC or some paranoid, alarm-sounding Republicans made it out to be. Those who predicted we’d all die unless government took drastic measures (like banning flights) were wrong.

This raises an interesting thought experiment: Suppose government had banned flights from infected countries. Suppose they did so on October 25—one day after the most recent confirmed case in America. It’s likely we’d credit the lack of any further cases to government’s action. We’d pat ourselves on the back for supporting a flight ban, and we’d have “evidence” to support the use of more flight bans in the future should something like the Ebola outbreak happen again.

This “evidence,” of course, would be faulty. Ebola wasn’t going to spread any further in the United States whether government banned flights or not. This is fact.

But suppose something else. Suppose other actions the government has taken to combat some perceived threat—say, drone strikes of suspected terrorists in the Middle East to combat the threat of terror, or mandating certain vaccines to combat widespread outbreaks of disease—have had the same effect of apparent usefulness but have, in reality, fought a non-existent threat. How many of those roles government assumes are really just big wastes of money?

Fight Ebola yourself

No, I don’t mean that title to be offensive or flippant.

It’s actually a summation of my article today at Values & Capitalism. In it, I explain why combating Ebola doesn’t require broad-based federal action. Instead of whining about why the CDC won’t step up, why not take steps yourself? On an individual level, yes, but also at an organizational level. We aren’t helpless, after all. That’s what libertarians and conservatives believe about everything else. Why shouldn’t it apply to disease control?

Take Firestone Tire and Rubber, for example. When Ebola showed up near their rubber plantation in Harbel, Liberia, they took drastic measures to combat the virus. The result: The virtual disappearance of Ebola in their town, despite it’s proliferation across neighboring towns and the rest of the country.

You can read my article at this link. Hope you enjoy.

For your own sake, don’t politicize Ebola

Conservatives: Just because Obama is a liberal doesn’t mean none of his administration’s Ebola strategies make sense. If it were President Romney explaining why a flight ban won’t help anything, would you be so up in arms?

And since when is a crisis reason enough to abandon free market principles? Conservatives have always hated the CDC. Now they’re blaming Obama for proposing cuts to CDC’s budget back in 2011. They want CDC to do even more! It reminds me of post-9/11 (not that I remember that period…I’ve only read the history), when conservatives were all for war in Afghanistan, the TSA, the Patriot Act. Once Obama was elected, all those things became evil. This is why I rarely vote for Republicans, and didn’t in 2012. Once they’re in power, true free market principles in America virtually disappear!

I’m a free market guy. I like most conservatives. But using a virus that is killing thousands to score political points and attack Obama is pretty low. The reasons why a flight ban won’t work should, I think, make sense to anyone willing to consider the merits of the decision itself instead of criticizing the people making the decision.

This issue hits home for me. My wife is a nurse, and a suspected Ebola case showed up in her hospital late last week (this has been reported in the news…I’m not disclosing confidential information). If she’d had been asked to treat this patient, she’d have done it willingly. Then she’d have come home in the morning, knowing that sensible precautions were taken. Of course, even the best precautions won’t work 100 percent of the time. Thus the Dallas nurse infected last week. But to achieve any success at all, risks have to be taken. It’s vitally important that those risks be understood in light of the facts, not political grudges. If not, we risk putting people like my wife in danger.

For example, consider if a flight ban were mandated. Are hospitals to quit asking if a patient had come from west Africa? They might as well. What patient is going to admit having broken the law if they somehow breached the barricade? This puts Americans in more danger than they are now–nurses most of all.

Then imagine if a patient did admit to evading the flight ban. Mass hysteria would break out. No one with a West African (or probably any African) accent would be trusted. Perceptions of risk would be incalculable, as the number of recent visitors to west Africa in the United States would be unknown. The economy would suffer, and more harm would come to Americans than what would have come otherwise.

The choice is between calculable risk (no flight ban) and incalculable risk (flight ban). Use your brain and think about this. Forget that it’s Obama in power. Forget that the CDC Chief is a poor speaker. Consider the facts and think about the administration’s reasoning. Obama’s made tons of mistakes, but this isn’t one of them.

The Ebola epidemic is getting worse

According to Michael T. Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota, Liberia has only 250 doctors left in the wake of the growing Ebola epidemic. The country’s population tops 4 million. From the New York Times :

Because people are now too afraid of contracting Ebola to go to the hospital, very few are getting basic medical care. In addition, many health care workers have been infected with Ebola, and more than 120 have died. Liberia has only 250 doctors left, for a population of four million.

That’s a 1:16,369 doctor-population ratio. To put that in perspective, that ratio in the United States is around 1:413.