Thursday, October 9, 2014

Ebola – Reasons to be Concerned, But Not Afraid

“Panic causes tunnel vision. Calm acceptance of danger allows us to more easily assess the situation and see the options.”  - Simon Sinek

While alternative media has been reporting heavily on the Ebola outbreak for some time, in recent weeks the mainstream media has finally got around to giving it the attention it deserves.  I’m not entirely satisfied with the way they’re covering it, but at least they're giving it some of the attention it deserves.  On the other hand, I’m finding many (though thankfully not all) in the alternative media space are on a total freak-out and making this into the next potential mutant-biker zombie apocalypse.  While I feel there is a good reason to be concerned and I do find it to be a complete tragedy (in part because of the initial tepid response on behalf of most of the international community), I am not afraid.

Some of the reasons why:

-       Ebola flourishes in hot, humid environments.  While there are such environments in the US, it isn’t the predominant climate for much of the country.  Plus we are approaching winter, which helps reduce the risk further.

-       Ebola is not as easily spread as many diseases.  While there may be a case for limited short-range transmission via large droplets that are airborne for short periods of time, for the most part it usually requires direct contact with the bodily fluids or a symptomatic carrier.

-       It isn’t contagious until the infected person becomes symptomatic, unlike say the common cold.

-       Most Americans have more stringent standards of hygiene than those in the affected countries in Africa.  This is not a slam against those in Liberia, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, etc.; it’s simply an acknowledgement that ANYONE no matter their culture will have their hygiene suffer when living in a poverty-stricken environment or in a place with limited infrastructure. Not to mention that Americans on the whole are bigger clean freaks than people in most other cultures (IMO we often take it a little too far, but in this case it works to our favor).

-       Americans in general, and especially in the areas I and my friends and family live, have much larger personal space boundaries than many other cultures.  Especially for a disease that largely requires physical contact with the person or bodily fluids, social distance = lower risk of infection.

Now as to the things I AM concerned about:

-       This outbreak of Ebola seems to be characterized by a long incubation period (up to 3 weeks).  This allows for easier spread to other parts of the world, since thermal cameras and health screenings at airports do little good if the infected carrier is not yet symptomatic.

-       While still not as virulent as the cold or influenza viruses, this instance of Ebola appears to be more contagious than what is typically expected.  The large number of health professionals infected is tricky to explain given what we supposedly know about Ebola’s normal methods of transmission.  It’s expected a handful might get infected due to oversights and accidents, but the number of health professionals infected is way more than a handful.  I suspect that either 1) the virus is somehow becoming hardier and able to survive outside the body for longer periods, or 2) there is a limited ability to transmit the infection through large droplets suspended in the air for short periods.  I suspect it’s #2, where those within a few feet of an infected person (who is most likely coughing) have some small risk of infection.

-       I’m concerned for the general welfare of people living in parts of Africa and hot, humid climates throughout Asia, as any continuation of the outbreak is most likely to spread to those areas. I shudder to think if this were to spread to a major city in India, southern China, or somewhere in southeast Asia.  Even in the winter, those areas are plenty hot.

-       Indirect effects like economic impacts in the affected countries.  Some of the countries in Africa are already feeling this in spades (, and if it spreads significantly into Asia it would be a punch to the gut for the global economy.

-       The possibility that some sick fundamentalist chowderheads will use an infected person to spread bodily fluids in high traffic areas in major cities.  Coat their gloves with said fluids and spend weeks walking around the city, touching handrails, doorknobs, subway handholds, etc.  And that leads to the thing I’m most concerned about….

-       …….. PANIC!!!

I’ve said a number of times before that peoples’ reactions to a difficult situation or incident often has more impact than the direct effects of the original incident.  So what actually concerns me most is how people, and especially our governments, REACT to this.  Ebola isn’t as much of a threat as say, a repeat of the 1918 Spanish Influenza epidemic, but for all its relatively mediocre transmissibility and contagiousness, it more than makes up for it in the terror it inspires in people (or at least people here in America).  And it’s that proclivity to inspire terror that makes Ebola truly dangerous to Western society as a whole.  With sufficient levels of panic involved, essential physical and economic infrastructure will suffer far out of proportion to the actual infection rate and death toll of the disease.  Even with the potential terror attack I outlined earlier, the true danger there is the terror such acts will create.  When people get scared enough they will demand that someone (usually the government) needs to DO something!  And do you really think things will get better when THIS government of ass-clowns steps forward with a “solution”?

Now let me say right off the bat that I don’t buy the line peddled by some in the alternative media that the US government response to Ebola is engineered and being deliberately fumbled, just so as to create some false flag emergency that the government can use just to grab more power.  Both my current and previous two jobs involve working as a contractor for government agencies (I won’t say which… for now), and I can tell you now that the middle-men and higher-ups in government don’t need to pretend to be incompetent or brainless.  They do just fine demonstrating it on their own on a daily basis.  Furthermore, I think even the most brainless and/or wicked among them are aware that this disease wouldn’t discriminate between them and the masses, and if there’s one thing the political class has a knack for its self-preservation.  Now with that being said, I believe they would respond to an existing panic by giving themselves more power and taking away more civil liberties in the name of security, especially if the public is all lathered up and demanding somebody ‘do something’.  And the sad fact is most new laws, measures, or restrictions introduced would probably do little to alleviate the spread or the death toll, and they wouldn’t go away once the Ebola epidemic ended either (after all, al Qaeda being effectively neutered hasn't yet led to the end of the Patriot Act).  This makes it even more crucial not to panic!  The federal government already has the legal powers and resources to address epidemics in the early stages, or to contain and isolate communities suffering from larger outbreaks if necessary.  Don’t give in to fear and give them the opportunity to grab more power and push our nation further towards George Orwell’s and Aldous Huxley’s visions of the future.

Ok so if it Ebola is at least something to be concerned about, what should we do as individuals about the possibility of Ebola spreading in the US?  Well just speaking for myself, I’m not doing anything different than what I normally do.  In the small chance that Ebola does happen to have a significant outbreak in the local area, the most prudent course of action would be to isolate oneself and one’s family at home for some period of time.  We are already reasonably equipped to do this if necessary.  I already keep close to six months’ worth of food, mostly involving the ‘deep pantry’ concept but we also have some long-term storable food and a chest freezer that’s close to full.  We have good supplies of first aid and sanitization items available, and tend to keep ourselves well-stocked on other basic household goods like toilet paper, cleaning supplies, etc.  We have plenty of money saved so we don’t have to make a decision on whether to stay home and go broke versus go to work and risk getting sick (I can even pay the rent electronically).  Heck, we even have plenty of ways to stave off boredom without leaving the house, including numerous books (both paper books and digital format), several card and board games, and an embarrassingly large collection of video games on the PC and Xbox I have yet to play (damn those adult responsibilities!).  My family doesn’t store extra food, household goods, and have extra cash on hand because we expect the world to end from Ebola or World War III or the Apocalypse du jour; we do it so we don’t have to be miserable when life throws a curve ball, whether it’s as severe as bugging in to protect ourselves from disease or as common as losing a job.

Anyway, if you aim to improve your resilience in such a manner there is no reason to be afraid at this stage in the game.  Preparedness helps minimize or eliminate the fear response, and fear is the real thing we need to watch out for…

… well, unless you work with THIS guy in the Ebola cleanup detail…

"Hello Peter, what's happening?  Umm, I'm gonna need you to roll those sleeves on your protective suit back down.  So if you could not be a dumb-ass and please cover your skin to avoid catching and spreading disease around that would be great, mmkay?  Oh oh I almost forgot aah... I'm also gonna need you to go ahead and come in on Sunday too, kay?  We ahh lost some people this week and ah, we sorta need to play catch up."

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