Thursday, October 16, 2014

The Chill in the Air: Ebola is Here

Do you feel the chill in the air? It isn't from the onset of autumn. It is caused by a creeping dread which is spreading throughout the country.

Yes, it is one thing to hear about the Ebola epidemic in Africa, but it is another entirely to know the deadly little worm is here right now. Indeed, no matter what the assurances, no matter how much we yearn to buy into the myth of American health care superiority, it is hard not to have at least a glimmer of suspicion we have just stepped into a real time version of the movie, "Outbreak."

Reports from Dallas prove all the CDC protocols in the world don't mean squat if no one follows them. In a "Today Show" interview, Nurse Brianna Aguirre, who works at Texas Health Presbyterian, described a nightmare of lax procedures and down right deadly incompetence on the part of administrators and senior staff.

When Liberian national Thomas Duncan was sent back to the apartment complex he was staying at--even though he was displaying symptoms of the disease--it was just the beginning of a series of mis-steps which practically guaranteed others would be infected.

According to Aguirre, even when he returned to the hospital on the verge of dying, he was initially put into a ward with seven other patients. In her words, "I watched them violate basic principles of nursing."

She described a situation in which the people treating Duncan were left with exposed necks and dressed in uniforms that absorbed, rather than repelled things like his sweat and blood. The hospital is denying they did anything wrong, but that isn't a huge surprise.The legal department of Texas Health Presbyterian knows scores of lawyers are lining up at this very moment and every last one of  them is going to seek settlements in amounts which would make even Bill Gates shudder.

Aguirre said the facility was so poorly prepared to handle the virus that the hospital's infectious disease  department didn't have a clue. Their initial response to questions about proper protocol was, "We don't know. We're going to have to call you back."

Meanwhile, there is now a debate about exactly how long it takes for an infected person to display symptoms. The commonly accepted opinion is if you aren't sick within 21 days of exposure you're okay. However one study claims up to 12% of those who come down with the disease don't display symptoms until after 21 days. It recommends a quarantine period of at least 31 days.

Nina Pham, the first nurse infected, was transferred to an isolation unit at the National Institute of Health in Bethesda, Maryland. Amber Vinson, the second, has been moved to Emory University Hospital in Atlanta. Ms. Vinson called the, CDC, the preeminent authority on all things infectious, when she began running a low grade fever. Despite all the circumstances, they failed to tell her to go to a hospital in Cleveland, where she was visiting, or not board a plane for the return trip to Dallas. At least two schools in Cleveland have been closed and are being disinfected because of her presence there. The anxiety of the people on the flight with her probably can't be measured.

The American medical hierarchy, aided and abetted by politicians with other axes to grind, have done their best to convince us the health care system in this country is the finest in the world. In every impartial gathering of statistics over the past few years that arrogant notion has been debunked. Now, tragically, we're seeing why.

Hey, if you don't believe me, just ask Brianna Aguirre. She has this to say about Texas Health Presbyterian in Dallas, "I would try anything and everything to refuse to go there to be treated."

This afternoon Reuters reported a Yale graduate student was admitted to Yale New Haven Hospital last night suffering from Ebola like symptoms. He was one of two doctoral candidates who had just returned from Liberia. They were studying the spread of the virus.

Given the circumstances it is easy to think they figured out how it happens. Unfortunately, no one else here has.


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