Hot Topics in Health: Why the First Case of Ebola in the U.S. Should Change How We See the Virus
Health officials’ announcement on Tuesday confirming the first diagnosis of Ebola on U.S. soil in Dallas, Texas has completely changed the conversation on the epidemic for Americans, and possibly for developed nations at large.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has reassured the public that this case does not pose any serious threat, and that the American healthcare system and wealth of resources give the United States a superior ability to contain the virus and prevent it from spreading further. This may be true, and there is no doubt that the existence of resources in the United States that are in short supply in developing nations make the nature of a potential outbreak in America far different, and far less likely, than in West Africa.
However, just a few months ago, the CDC along with other health officials spoke out against any significant risk of Ebola making it to the United States or other developed nations. Kamiliny Kalahne, an epidemiologist with Doctors Without Borders, claimed at the time:
[Ebola has never spread to a developed country] because people generally transmit the infection when they are very sick, have a high fever and a lot of symptoms — and in these situations, they don’t travel.
Officials at the time went on to assure the public that even in the unlikely event that a case did occur in the United States, the virus would not likely spread because, according to Dr. Marty Cetron of the CDC:
Health officials would likely recognize such a case and be able to trace all points of contact with the patient to prevent further transmission.
Now, with this confirmed case of Ebola in the United States, all of these early claims are contested. Not only has a case managed to make it to a developed country, but health officials also failed to initially diagnose the Ebola patient even after it was disclosed that he had traveled to the country from Liberia. This travel history was not communicated to his doctors, and because his symptoms did not seem indicative of Ebola, he was sent home before returning and having his case confirmed two days later.
The ability and possibility of the United States and other developed nations to approach and combat this virus more effectively than developing countries is not in question, however what these recent events do cast doubt on is whether any nation – no matter how advanced or sophisticated its infrastructure is – can ever be completely safe from this kind of threat. Even if the events here mark a lapse in protocol or normalcy – which according to Dr. Anthony Fauci of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, who claimed that the hospital which first sent the patient home “dropped the ball,” they do – even a single mistake when it comes to a virus like this can lead to a dangerous chain reaction that ultimately poses too many risks moving forward, and that is definitely not something to be taken lightly.
If nothing else, even if this case of Ebola in the United States does not pose a serious risk of an outbreak here as it has elsewhere, as the situation receives massive media coverage and stirs up panic with the virus hitting so close to home, perhaps it may put into perspective the severity of the crisis by taking it off of the global stage for a moment and putting it in a personal context for Americans. It serves as a reminder that the immunity of developed nations when it comes to global problems is never 100 percent guaranteed. The panic and urgency with which we have approached this single case on our own soil is only a fraction of the urgency with which we must approach the epidemic in West Africa, because whether it’s happening here or miles away, it is everybody’s problem.
Do you believe having a case of Ebola in the U.S. may alter Americans’ perspective of the virus as a result of seeing it hit closer to home? Share your thoughts below or tweet me @tamarahoumi