When Fear and Preconception Meet Ebola: The Rand Paul Edition

By way of No More Mister Nice Blog, we read that Republican Senator Rand Paul, who is a sorta licensed ophthalmologist, had this to about the Ebola virus (boldface mine):

Glenn [Beck] interviewed Senator Rand Paul on radio today to talk about some key elections and the outbreak of the Ebola virus here in the United States. Paul thinks it’s a huge mistake to downplay the threat of an epidemic, and believes political correctness is what’s hampering a real discussion from taking place….

“I do think you have to be concerned. It’s an incredibly transmissible disease that everyone is downplaying, saying it’s hard to catch. Well, we have physicians and health workers who are catching it who are completely gloved down and taking every precaution and they’re still getting it. So, yes, I’m very concerned about this. I think at the very least there needs to be a discussion about airline travel between the countries that have the raging disease.”

Keep in mind that conservatives have been flogging the ‘ban-all-travel’ line, so it’s not clear if Paul is biased because of political pressure or genuine fear. It’s also worth noting that Ebola is far less infectious than influenza or measles. That said, Paul very well could be misunderstanding (or misrepresenting) this Science news article (boldface mine):

But all three [infected healthcare workers] wonder about another question that has important implications for other health care workers: How did they become infected?

Surprisingly, no one has a firm answer. “Every day I’m still thinking, When was I contaminated?” Omeonga says, although he suspects the hospital director was the source. Writebol, a clinical nurse associate who worked for a missionary group called SIM at the ELWA 2 Ebola Treatment Center in Monrovia and helped health care workers don and doff PPEs, is similarly stumped. “Nobody is really sure, least of all me,” she says. Brantly, a doctor in the same center, also has only hunches but says, “I am fully convinced that I did not contract Ebola in my work in the treatment unit.”

Now, if you stop reading there, one might want to hit full panic mode: EBOLAZ ARE EVERYWHEREZ11!!11. But let’s keep reading:

“Very few people have anything specific to say,” Bausch says, although many, like Brantly, doubt that they got infected in the Ebola unit itself, where precautions are most stringent. “There’s a tendency to want to believe people get infected outside the ward because it makes us feel better. It’s probably a mixed bag.”

Brantly, Writebol, and Omeonga say they had ample training about how to protect themselves. “Our process was very safe,” says Brantly, who worked for the Christian relief group Samaritan’s Purse. “It is my opinion that during an Ebola outbreak, the safest health care job is working in the Ebola treatment unit.” The hidden danger, they say, lies in patients whose status isn’t known.

Brantly suspects he was infected while working in the emergency room, outside the treatment unit, and saw a patient who was diagnosed with Ebola only after she died. He wasn’t wearing PPE at the time. “It is in clinics and emergency rooms and hospitals where you have to look at every patient and ask yourself ‘Should I be concerned that this patient might have Ebola?’” he says. But it’s a risk that is, in practicality, impossible to eliminate.

Omeonga, too, says new patients present a serious risk. “A lot of them were lying when they came to the hospital,” he says. “They didn’t even tell you they’re having fevers. They’d say they fell down or were on a motorbike or someone pushed them or they went to work and passed out.” He was one of 15 who became infected at his hospital, presumably all by the ailing director. Nine of them died. The hospital closed.

No doubt, this is difficult–and that Texas Presbyterian Hospital has either been able to figure out (or knows and is being uncooperative) why its Ebola patient was handled so poorly is disturbing. But there’s no mystery here. Ebola, while not nearly as contagious as other viruses, is contagious and there are risks involved. Rather than panicking by banning travel to and from the affected countries–which will only prolong the outbreak, we should make sure that we have the short-term resources here–isolation units, protective equipment, and various notification systems, so people know a response is necessary (the latter is key: without knowing you have a problem, the gear doesn’t matter). Over the long-term, we need to revitalize infectious disease as a speciality–in the U.S. today, less than half of the infectious disease residencies are filled and it is the least lucrative speciality.

A U.S. senator might be in a position to fix these problems.

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4 Responses to When Fear and Preconception Meet Ebola: The Rand Paul Edition

  1. Rand’s daddy will pay for the finest isolation unit should his libertarian snowflake become “active.” Self-aggrandizement under the guise of public servitude is how the Paul franchise virus survives in precarious political waters.

  2. Ron says:

    “A U.S. senator might be in a position to fix these problems.”

    Shouldn’t there be a 😉 after that statement?

  3. There is no mystery why the Texas hospital missed it & sent the guy home with antibiotics, if the patient was uninsured. He would’ve been profiled as a deadbeat seeking “primary care” for non-emergency symptoms at the ER, and treated with the dismissal given nearly everyone who fits that profile to some ER staff.

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