Friday, August 8, 2014

It's just all a bit much. And, Ebola.

Hi Guys.

According to Blogger- you're all still here, tuned in.  I'm honored.

The reasons I've been quiet are still the same; massive overloads In Real Life - and a lack of anything genuinely useful to say about current world insanities.

Today, though; I do have something useful to tell you; out of my particular Biology/Evolution/Etc. background.

We're experiencing the largest outbreak seen of the Ebola virus.  Should you worry?  Or not?

You need to pay attention, is what you need to do.  (Not to me.  To what's going on.)

So far I have seen a great many of the disasters, problems, conundrums that are known to occur during "plague" outbreaks; already happening.  We have history to look at; I recommend it.  People can be harmed in epidemics by many things other than the bug itself.

Here is a list of "Already here" bad things, that do not help:

Politicians lying about the extent of the epidemic.
Politicians telling you :"There's no risk to us!"  then- 'There's almost no risk to us!"  And I've already seen "We'll probably get a case or 2 inside the US, but we can handle it."
Press printing any blathering nonsense they can find.
Finger-pointing between nations and agencies.
New committees.
An experimental "cure" - with a tiny supply; and fights about who gets it.
Con men selling fake cures to desperate people.  (saw an ad on Facebook already)
Wall Street types jockeying to capture the profits.
Military roadblocks going up - and cities sealed off - too late.
Desperate people sneaking through roadblocks, and bribing their way.
Soothsayers announcing "This is IT!  Run!"

All of those are happening now; and will likely get worse.

Here's my "no bull" advice.

Don't panic.  It doesn't help.  Is this virus dangerous - to you and your family?  Yes, it is; but we don't know how it's going to turn out.  Disease organisms follow the "rules of Epidemiology" - when you can average 1,000 different viruses and bacteria together.  Individually - they do not have to follow anyone's rules.  It could mutate to be more infectious; or less.  Or both, on different expansion fronts.

This scenario is possible: You live in Denver?  Far from everything.  But; the incubation period for Ebola is stated as "between 2 and 21 days."  That's really dangerous.  An infected person, at day 15 of his infection; gets on a plane.  Yes, he might be shedding virus by then.  Gets off the plane in Cairo, Egypt, 2 hours later, having transmitted it to 2 other people; the steward, and the lady in the next seat.

He stays in Cairo, vanishes into the countryside and is never recognized as dying of Ebola.  The steward flies next to Paris, becomes symptomatic and infectious 17 days later, infecting an entire flight crew...  and on; until an infected but not yet symptomatic person gets off the plane in Denver... goes to a rock concert/ all night rave-revival party - throws up...

"It's not likely!"  No, it's not; but the bigger the epidemic gets, the more chances; and there's really no way to prevent that kind of scenario - short of shutting international air traffic; off.

If that happens?  You'll know it's getting serious; and that it's too late to be effective, and the next step is martial law.  In Denver?  Yes.

This kind of thing has happened repeatedly, historically, in plague events, going back to Rome, at least.  But they didn't have air traffic; or the Mexico City slums - etc.

This virus is not capable of suddenly mutating into a disease that can blow in the air from somewhere miles away.  An epidemic in Africa is not a threat to you - today.  One case in NYC - is not much threat even to NYC.  If, however, we wake up one day and there are 2,000 new cases in NYC today- that's a threat.  Neither hospitals nor police will be able to control things.

Think about what you can do, if you have to.  I would say start thinking now.

And the statistic I would watch is the daily CHANGE in death rate and infection rate.  That was a  lot of the reason I decided to write this; I've already seen one "seer" shrieking "It's gone asymptotic!!"  My respect for that source dropped through the floor; not that it was all that high.  Just as pure statistics; that's crap.  Yes, there's a jog up in deaths and new cases - in the past 2 days.  It could very easily be a pure fluke; better reporting yesterday, for example.  The probability of "fluke" is much higher than "asymptotic!"

If the rate of change keeps climbing up for a week- yes, I'd start to worry.  If the rate of increase keeps going up for 2 weeks, with no break; I would have to predict that a great many people will die before it's over; but we still cannot know when, or where, it could suddenly shift into a trivial virus.

Like everything else in our future now; we do not know what will happen next.

Keep an eye on the Wikipedia "ebola" page.  Seriously.  I know, that used to be a joke line; but it's not anymore.  It is the only source of information on the technical knowledge of the virus that just says this; right up front: "Transmission: It is not entirely clear how Ebola is spread."  That's from a CDC document; not one I could find, but its cited here.  The WHO at the moment is putting out the official line that "ebola is very hard to catch, and requires direct 'bodily fluids' contact".  The Russian weapons experts are saying "maybe not."

 The great majority of sources will have some "agenda" they want you to swallow.  Wikipedia now has dozens of actual experts monitoring the information changes - and if you put something up that anyone can criticize as "not true" - down it comes. 

Don't panic.  Pay attention.

And find a copy of Sinclair Lewis's "Arrowsmith" - a novel about exactly this situation; from the viewpoint of the medical researcher.  They gave him the Pulitzer Prize for that novel; and he refused it. His insights into human behavior during a plague - are... well, Pulitzer material.

The entire text is online; here; Arrowsmith text   Public domain, pretty sure.

UPDATE: 8/14 - I managed to find the WHO current statistics page.  They report new totals for deaths and new cases, every 2-3 days.  There are lots of ups and downs in the numbers- imagine the difficulties of "counting", and reporting, in the middle of it all.  It's clearly horrific for those caught in it. Overall, it does appear that new cases and numbers of new deaths are increasing; but it's a long way from "asymptotic."  Somebody out there - could use these data to produce a good graph.  I'd rather see a graph of new cases and new deaths than total cases and total deaths, and I haven't seen one.  I'd do it; but- several people would kill me if I stole that time.  :-)


knutty knitter said...

Some of us are still out here :)


Greenpa said...

Good to know, Viv! :-)

Melissa said...

Still out here and appreciative of your perspective :) Glad to see you're still out there, too!

peacegarden said...

Still here and interesting perspective on the ebola mess.


Diana Hickman said...

Just found your blog through one of your comments on a chicken coop how-to. I'm sorry I hadn't discovered your blog earlier, but I have gone back to read some from the past, and I will be following you from now on. Your voice and perspective are sober, mature, and wise.

Greenpa said...

Melissa and Gail, thanks! :-)
And Diana, welcome. You may find a few posts that are not exactly "mature"... :-)

shadowfoot said...

Thanks for posting when you're able. Appreciate this one too, as I don't know a whole lot about epidemics and how they work.

Be well.

Hank Roberts said...

I think this was mentioned earlier, it's from August, still quite a good informative presentation, from before the virus moved into urban spread, from the public health point of view.

The 2014 Ebola Outbreak: Update on an Unprecedented Public Health Event
UC Berkeley Events

"... the hospitals are the amplifiers ..."