Ebola is provoking commentary that is both sensible and shocking
(CNN) — The U.S. experience with Ebola is generating commentary that is both prudent and outrageous.
There have been three cases of Ebola occurring on U.S. soil, one ending fatally and the other two now under treatment.
While health officials provide sober guidance on the deadly disease, several public figures, from high-level politicians to cultural icons, haven’t been so even-tempered in their remarks, adding to the public hype that has become associated with the virus.
Here is a sampling of those provocative comments, plus a little myth busting, clarifying and reality checking from Ebola experts from around the world.
“If you bring two doctors who happen to have that specialty (Ebola) into a room, one will say, ‘No, it will never become airborne, but it could mutate so it would be harder to discover.’ Another doctor will say, ‘If it continues to mutate at the rate it’s mutating, and we go from 20,000 infected to 100,000, the population might allow it to mutate and become airborne, and then it will be a serious problem.’ I don’t know who is right.” — Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told CNN.
Ebola isn’t transmitted through the air. It is transmitted through direct contact by bodily fluids with an Ebola-infected person showing symptoms of the disease.
A mutation such as the kind Dempsey describes “would be exceedingly rare” in one epidemic, said Edward C. Holmes of Marie Bashir Institute for Infectious Diseases and Biosecurity at the University of Sydney.
“It happens over evolutionary time, millions of years,” Holmes said. “This idea that it takes one or two of those mutations and ‘Wham!’ you pick up airborne transmission, that is way too simplistic.”
“If someone has Ebola at a cocktail party, they’re contagious and you can catch it from them. — Sen. Rand Paul, a physician and potential 2016 presidential candidate
Again, experts say the contact with an infectious person must be tactile, or direct touching, and involve bodily fluids — blood, sweat, feces, vomit, semen or spit.
People in West Africa are avoiding hugs and handshakes because the virus can be spread through the sweat on someone’s hand.
The uninfected person would have to have a break in the skin of their hand that would allow entry of the virus, CNN’s Dr. Sanjay Gupta said. But “we all have minor breaks in our skin. And there is a possibility that some of the virus can be transmitted that way.”
Paul also made other remarks regarding direct contact: “They say all it takes is direct contact to get this. If you listen carefully, they say being three feet from someone is direct contact. That’s not what most Americans think is direct contact.”
Without directly addressing Paul’s claims about contact over three feet, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Dr. Thomas Frieden indicated that’s not a possible mode of transmission for the virus.
“Should you be worried you might have gotten it by sitting next to someone?” Frieden said, according to the Louisville Courier-Journal. “The answer to that is no.”
“The most comforting thing that I heard from (Dr. Brenda Fitzgerald, commissioner of the Georgia Department of Public Health) was that water kills the Ebola virus. I’ve never heard that before. I thought it was something that was so contagious there wasn’t much you could do to prevent it or anything else, so her advice was ‘wash your hands.’ “ — Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal toldthe Marietta Daily Journal.
In fact, water alone does not kill Ebola. Soap and water does. So does chlorine and bleach, experts added.
“As with other infectious diseases, one of the most important preventive measures is frequent hand-washing. Use soap and water, or use alcohol-based hand rubs containing at least 60% alcohol when soap and water aren’t available,” the Mayo Clinic said about the prevention and spread of Ebola infection.
“The U.S. must immediately stop all flights from EBOLA infected countries or the plague will start and spread inside our ‘borders.’ Act fast!” — Real estate mogul Donald Trump said on Twitter.
Most public health experts oppose such a ban.
“Many nations have banned flights from other countries in recent years in hopes of blocking the entry of viruses, including SARS and H1N1 ‘swine flu,’ ” wrote Laurie Garrett, a senior fellow for global health at the Council on Foreign Relations. “None of the bans were effective, and the viruses gained entry to populations regardless of what radical measures governments took to keep them out.”
No ban will completely stop people moving about the world, experts said.
“It gives us the false assurance that we can ignore the problems that are happening in Africa,” Wendy Parmet, director of the Program on Health Policy and Law at Northeastern University School of Law, told National Geographic. “At the end of the day, we can’t. And our own safety depends on our getting it right there, not on building the walls.”
President Obama this week said he opposes a travel ban.
“Reports of illegal migrants carrying deadly diseases such as swine flu, dengue fever, Ebola virus and tuberculosis are particularly concerning.” — Georgia Republican Rep. Phil Gingrey, a medical doctor, wrote to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Gingrey and other Republicans have claimed that Latino immigrants are carriers for Ebola, particularly via the U.S.-Mexico border.
“One of the reasons why I’ve been so adamant about closing our border, because if people are coming through normal channels — can you imagine what they can do through our porous borders?” former Massachusetts senator and now New Hampshire Senate candidate Scott Brown said in a radio interview.
Marine Gen. John Kelly, chief of the U.S. Southern Command said, “If Ebola breaks out, in Haiti or in Central America. I think it is literally, ‘Katie bar the door,’ in terms of the mass migration of Central Americans into the United States.”
Health experts said those fears are grossly exaggerated.
CDC Director Dr. Thomas Frieden dismissed the possibility of Ebola reaching the United States via the southern border. “That is not happening,” he said.
“I don’t know … But I think this Ebola epidemic is a form of population control. S*** is getting crazy bruh,” R&B star Chris Brown tweeted.
Brown and a number of other public figures, including radio show hosts Rick Wiles and Michael Savage have advanced perhaps the most provocative statements.
Let’s take this one by one.
The numbers don’t support Brown’s comment.
There are more than 7 billion people living on Earth. Worldwide, there have been a total of 8,997 confirmed, probable and suspected cases of Ebola in seven affected countries (Guinea, Liberia, Nigeria, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Spain and the United States), according to the latest World Health Organization figures.
There have been 4,493 deaths, the WHO says.
Then there’s Christian radio broadcaster Wiles, who said Ebola “may be the great attitude adjustment that I believe is coming,” according to the Colorado Springs Gazette.
Ebola “could solve America’s problems with atheism, homosexuality, sexual promiscuity, pornography and abortion,” Wiles said on his Trunews program, according to the Colorado Independent.
A prominent Christian evangelical group, Focus on the Family, denounced those remarks.
“Our first response as Christians to tragedies such as Ebola ought to be one of concern and compassion,” Ron Reno, the group’s vice president of orthodoxy, said, according to the Independent. “[P]ublicly speculating on God’s motives in allowing specific outbreaks of disease is both unwise and unhelpful.”
Finally, talk radio host Michael Savage said President Barack Obama wants to infect America with Ebola.
“There is not a sane reason to take three- or four-thousand troops and send them into a hot Ebola zone without expecting at least one of them to come back with Ebola, unless you want to infect the nation with Ebola,” Savage said.
Obama sent those U.S. troops to West African nations with Ebola as part of an international effort to help eradicate — not spread — the disease.
“The most important thing in addition to treating and monitoring anybody who even has a hint of potential exposure here in this country, the most important thing that I can do for keeping the American people safe, is for us to be able to deal with Ebola at the source, where you have a huge outbreak in West Africa,” Obama said Thursday.