Friday, October 10, 2014

"Right Now the Math Still Favors the Virus"

This started out as a link, but turned into a bit of commentary...

Society often walks a fine line between panic and laxity over any potential crisis. Ebola is no different, and I understand why the medical community took a somewhat pollyannish view toward it in pronouncements to the public. But the numbers involved, our highly mobile society, and the fact that complex containment protocols on paper will not be completely carried out (because they never are) calls for a more sober assessment. This Washington Post article, "The Ominous Math of the Ebola Epidemic," offers a somewhat more realistic view of the numbers and potential exponential growth involved:

I'm not terribly confident of success in "containing" Ebola in the short-term, but I do suspect we will find effective treatments for managing it in those diagnosed early, and thus significantly cutting the fatality rate (the successes we've already had are quite encouraging). In trying to avoid panic the CDC and others bent over too far in the direction of preaching calm and confidence. And the problem with that scenario is the backlash it may lead to.
This country already has a perturbingy large, vocal anti-science component in it. If the medical community misplays the Ebola epidemic it will add ammunition to their arsenal: 'see, we can't trust scientists; they don't really know what they're doin'. The anti-vaccers, anti-evolutionists, climate-denialists etc. will have a field day, long-term, if, after all the calls for calm/trust, the epidemic spreads widely. I'm almost as concerned over that as I am over the medical crisis itself.
In so many ways of course we have a wonderful medical community in this country, especially when it comes to medical emergencies. One just hopes they're not already in over their head in this case. We are probably already in the stage of swinging from calm to panic (there is so little middle-ground):

I don't know if the medical community could've done any better in their public communications -- they were caught between a rock and hard place... walking a tightrope... over a mass public that little understands how real science operates.
Anyway, to those on the front lines, where so much courage, care, commitment, and selflessness are now required, I sit in awe of you.

ADDENDUM:  highly-respected Laurie Garrett has now posted a piece that I think pretty well nails the proper cautionary stance/tone needed in this circumstance, while addressing "five myths about Ebola" (glad to see her do it!):

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