Ebola by the numbers

The rhetoric behind the US strategy to contain and combat Ebola suggests procedures are being made up as we go along and assurances that the government knows how to contain the virus are hollow.

Remember that on September 26th, Thomas Eric Duncan was sent home with a 103 fever when he first reported to the Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital in Dallas. At that time, he told hospital workers that on a scale of 1 to 10, his pain registered at eight. He spent two days without treatment critical to his survival and on October 8th, he subsequently died of the disease.   All the while the Dallas hospital was saying that he was getting the best of care. Meanwhile, back in Liberia where it was believed he contracted the disease, officials said they were considering charges to bring against Duncan for reportedly lying on his medical questionnaire before boarding a flight to the US.

On Sunday, it was reported that nurse Nina Pham contracted the disease. She had been one of the nurses caring for Duncan. On Monday, Dr. Tom Frieden, director of the CDC, pretty much laid blame on her claiming a “breach in protocol.”  And he added the warning, “It is possible in the coming days that we will see additional cases of Ebola.”

Now comes word that on October 13th a second nurse who contracted Ebola at that hospital was on a Frontier Airline flight from Cleveland to Dallas/Fort Worth while apparently asymptomatic. According to Frontier Airlines, the crew said Amber Vinson showed no symptoms or signs of illness while on the flight. She checked into the Dallas hospital the next day on October 14th reporting a low-grade fever and ultimately tested positive for Ebola. While in Cleveland, Vinson visited her family and spent time with her fiancé. They are asked to quarantine themselves for 21 days.

 Analysts following the Ebola outbreak have voiced concern about the cost and potential of spreading. The World Bank recently issued an assessment that suggests the economic drain to combat the disease, especially if it spreads beyond Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone, would be $32.6 billion dollars by the end of 2015. Airline stock prices are already down over concerns of a ban on travel to and from the infected areas. As a matter of fact, Andrew Zarnett, an analyst with Deutsche Bank wrote in a recent report that the potential effects of Ebola on the airline industry could be comparable to the $6 billion price tag caused by the SARS outbreak in 2003.

ExxonMobil has postponed oil drilling off the coast of Liberia, where it previously planned to explore offshore fields. Exports- such as rubber, iron ore and other vital raw materials are expected to fall as investors halt operations and expansion. The domino effect of shortages and market competition could create a ripple of ballooning prices for manufactured goods.

There is no estimate of the cost to the health care system but for starters, it costs almost $300 to test for the presence of the virus in a single patient. With the debilitating nature of the virus, it is safe to say a single patient in the US could easily run up a $100,000 hospital bill. That impacts people with health insurance as well as people without health insurance by driving costs up across the board.

White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest was asked today if the President is concerned about the fact that the CDC and health care professionals are learning after the fact that protocols were not working and health care workers were getting sick. Earnest said the President was in close contact with his public health team and is about to announce a new initiative.

The missteps by local and federal health responders have not inspired confidence. Shortly after Earnest spoke, Mr. Obama came out to address concerns publicly. The President told reporters that he ordered the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to send a rapid response team to oversee the handling of any future infections in the U.S. within 24 hours of diagnosis.

The statement came after meeting for more than 90 minutes with his senior advisers overseeing the Ebola outbreak. He promised a review of every step of the government’s response since the first case appeared in the U.S. He spoke of applying “lessons learned” in the government’s response to any future cases.

The President’s appearance Wednesday was clearly an attempt to tamp down public fear of the virus by saying the dangers of an outbreak in the U.S. continue to be low. He pointed to his visit last month with health care officials at Emory University who had treated a patient who had contracted Ebola while in West Africa.

“I shook hands with, hugged and kissed not the doctors but a couple of the nurses at Emory,” he said. “They followed the protocols. They knew what they were doing, and I felt perfectly safe doing so.”


containing ebola

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