October 07, 2014
There was some skepticism when I first pitched higher-ups in the company about our preparedness magazine Be Ready!. Wasn't all that for a few tin foil-hatters out in Utah or Idaho? Well, we're three issues into the title, and it's been quite successful on the newsstand all over the country. Wonder why?
We have continually been assured by public health authorities that a) the Ebola virus was unlikely to come here and b), if it did, it could be easily contained. Well, it's here; apparently nothing effective was done to prevent it coming here.
We are assured that only direct contact with bodily fluids can transmit the deadly hemorrhagic fever, so you are good to go so long as you don't actually touch someone with active symptoms. Well, maybe not so much. As the Los Angeles Times reported, some researchers aren't quite so confident about that.
"Dr. Philip K. Russell, a virologist who oversaw Ebola research while heading the U.S. Army's Medical Research and Development Command, and who later led the government's massive stockpiling of smallpox vaccine after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, also said much was still to be learned. 'Being dogmatic is, I think, ill-advised, because there are too many unknowns here.'
"If Ebola were to mutate on its path from human to human, said Russell and other scientists, its virulence might wane — or it might spread in ways not observed during past outbreaks, which were stopped after transmission among just two to three people, before the virus had a greater chance to evolve. The present outbreak in West Africa has killed approximately 3,400 people, and there is no medical cure for Ebola.
"'I see the reasons to dampen down public fears,' Russell said. 'But scientifically, we're in the middle of the first experiment of multiple, serial passages of Ebola virus in man.... God knows what this virus is going to look like. I don't.'"
So in other words, just because Ebola, which was only identified in 1976, has behaved in a certain way up to now, it may not behave that way going forward?
"Dr. C.J. Peters, who battled a 1989 outbreak of the virus among research monkeys housed in Virginia and who later led the CDC's most far-reaching study of Ebola's transmissibility in humans, said he would not rule out the possibility that it spreads through the air in tight quarters.
'We just don't have the data to exclude it,' said Peters, who continues to research viral diseases at the University of Texas in Galveston."
So if we aren't really 100 percent sure how it spreads, it's all the more important to be sure infected travelers don't disembark in this country, right? And how are we assuring ourselves that won't happen?
Dr. Thomas Frieden, director of the Centers for Disease Control, said that measures being taken in West African countries will stop infected travelers from coming to the USA.
"'One hundred percent of the individuals getting on planes are screened for fever before they get on the plane,'" Frieden said Sept. 30. "'And if they have a fever, they are pulled out of the line, assessed for Ebola, and don't fly unless Ebola is ruled out.'"
Let's see. If I can take some aspirin and get my fever below 101.5 degrees, I can get on the plane. If I can make it to America, I can get American-level health care rather than what I can get in Liberia or Sierra Leone. If I can't get my fever down? Well, this is Africa.
Many years back, I hunted in Africa with Tony Tornyi, a longtime and colorful employee of Century Arms who had made deals for arms and ammo in every tropical hellhole on the planet. There was no dictatorship too remote or disease-ridden to miss his call if there were small arms deals to be had.
What, I asked, was the most corrupt place he had ever visited? "Nigeria!" he said, without hesitation. He went on to tell a long and comical story about a medical inspector who held him up on arrival because his immunizations were more than 10 days old. The next time he visited, it was because they were less than 10 days old.
The crooked medico pointed out that the whole thing could be solved by a quick cash payment, but both times Tornyi dropped the name of a top general in the Nigerian Army, which led to a flurry of rubber-stamping his documents and his being waved through.
I thought of that story when reading Dr. Frieden's calm reassurance that the Ebola situation is under control. We are counting on medical bureaucrats in Africa to weed out Ebola-infected travelers? That's the best the U.S. government can do to keep us safe from a truly nasty disease about which we know relatively little?
The first time I ever heard of Ebola was that monkey outbreak in 1989, which happened near the office where I worked at the time for the American Rifleman. It was a big local story, and the assurances that all was well were pretty much the same ones we are hearing now.
As C.J. Peters recalled: "Those monkeys were dying in a pattern that was certainly suggestive of coughing and sneezing — some sort of aerosol movement," Bailey said. "They were dying and spreading it so quickly from cage to cage. We finally came to the conclusion that the best action was to euthanize them all."
The next issue of Be Ready! will be out in May. Let's hope by then we can say we were worried over nothing.