- Dr. Ezekiel Emanuel, chairman of the University of Pennsylvania’s Department of Medical Ethics and Health Policy, speaking on Ebola panic.
So now the cry across the nation is to ban flights from West Africa from entering the United States. Even though there are no direct flights from West Africa to the United States. And even though both the CDC and Doctors Without Borders are adamant against the imposition of travel bans.
The CDC and DWB predict that a travel ban would interfere with the movement of health care workers trying to get in and out of West Africa, as well as the transport of resources. People from the affected nations would find ways to travel anyway but now would be harder to trace and would withhold from officials the truth about where they've been. Cutting off travel to and from the afflicted countries would wreak havoc on their already impoverished economies, leaving those countries with even less financial resources with which to fight the Ebola epidemic. Which would cause the disease to spread even more. And the ensuing fear and panic at being cut off from the rest of the world could cause civil unrest that would make it even harder to fight the disease and its spread.
And the more Ebola spreads in Africa, the more the danger of it spreading to our shores.
And even if at this point your trust in what the CDC says is still a little squishy, if Doctors Without Borders says a travel ban would be a disaster upon a disaster, then you can bet your life it.
And yet many members of Congress, taking taking the temperature of public opinion just a few weeks before midterm elections, are ignoring the warning of the CDC And Doctors without borders and pushing for a travel ban.
Because it's much safer politically to give people a false sense of security than to tell them the hard truth: The only way to keep Ebola from our country is to gather the national will to fight it in West Africa.
And to wash our hands. Bleach and water is the gold standard for killing the Ebola virus, but soap and water does a good job, too.
The only problem is that washing your hands doesn't have much panache. And it doesn't pop on the campaign trail.
Besides, we feel more comfortable with flight bans. And quarantines. We've gone quarantine-crazy.
There's a growing belief that anyone who's been near anyone who's been in the vicinity of anyone who might have been around someone who could have been within 10 miles of a case of Ebola should be quarantined at home for 21 days.
Which would be fine if Ebola were that kind of contageous. But it's not. It can only be contracted by direct contact with the bodily fluids of an infected person who is showing symptoms of Ebola.
But consider this: If the American public's perception is that anyone who has been in the vicinity of a person infected with Ebola needs to be quarantined for 21 days, might not that push public policy to require just such a 21-day quarantine? How would such a policy affect heath-care workers who might have to deal with Ebola patients in this country? Would they even be willing to treat Ebola patients, knowing that they may be quarantined for three weeks afterwards?
And even though American workers and resources are desperately needed in the Ebola-stricken countries, can we expect anyone to go if they know they, without exception, will have to face a quarantine when they return?
Travel bans. Quarantines.
What we all really should be doing is washing our hands. Like crazy.
1. "Ebola Hot Take Of The Day: Travel Bans Would Make Things Worse. Let's Do Them Anyway", Huffington Post, October 10, 2014.
2. "Life In Quarantine: 21 Days Of Fear And Loathing", The New York Times, October 19, 2014.
3. "This Is The Messy Truth About Ebola", video portion of "Ebola cases could soar to 10,000 a week; CDC: New team to help hospital", CNN, October 14, 2014
4. "Stressing about Ebola? Wash your hands -- and get your flu shot, NY officials say", New York Daily News, October 16, 2014.
5. "Ebola Virus Can Be Killed With Soap And Water", CBS New Blog, August 5, 2014.