November 02, 2014

Ebola - dangerous to politicize Public Health

by Diane V. McLoughlin, November 2, 2014

Ebola spreads in the air - aerosolizes - via coughs and sneezes. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has waffled on this point, publishing and then removing a poster that explains that Ebola is capable of spreading via coughs and sneezes within three feet. Here is a copy of the deleted poster:

However, is the three-foot rule correct?  In an MIT experiment, scientists were able to measure how far aerosolized droplets from coughs and sneezes travel.  Written in formal scientific language, I was unable to discern where they indicate that the maximum distance is twenty feet, as cited by others. However, on page 560, the 'dozens of meters' conclusion is plain enough, as is their concern that aerosolized particles travel enough distance that the researchers express their concern that germs might be picked up and transported via ventilation systems.

On the other hand, if the three-foot rule is correct, that remains a lot of risk, not a little. On crowded public transportation systems people are constantly touching surfaces, a commonly understood mode of disease transmission. 

 The politicized messages of the CDC and World Health Organization (WHO), with their claims of the low infectious dangers of this Level Four dangerous disease, are like shifting sands dependent rather than independent of any politically correctness or prevailing political winds. 

Ebola is an air-borne disease beyond the splitting of hairs over how far it travels in the air. It has a lethality approaching 100% for those over 45 years of age. Ebola does not require many germs to successfully infect a host and there is suspicion it may survive at least for some period of time in sewers; it can linger dried on glass and plastic surfaces for up to three weeks in cool (+4C) conditions. Up to 13% of those infected never develop fever at all. 

Now, all of these facts are readily available, and take mere minutes to locate in the literature. This nurse clearly went to Africa to garner accolades for her own ego, otherwise why so much protest, so loudly, that she was not welcomed warmly enough to her own satisfaction and instead was prudently placed in quarantine? Nurse Kaci Hickox does not seem to have the capacity for true altruism or she would have accepted the 21 day paid quarantine with graciousness and aplomb. No, the public service she provides is as a shining example of why Public Health law is structured the way it is.

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