“Those who ignore history are doomed to repeat it” Once again it looks like Washington has forgotten the past. They are about to send 3000 troops to Africa to help contain the Ebola outbreak. There should be some serious red flags in this mission. The Spanish influenza pandemic of 1918 was a global disaster killing between 20-50 million people. The spread in the United States started with soldiers returning from WWI. While Ebola is different from influenza in the way it spreads it is just as deadly if not more so.
The 3000 troops are being sent directly to the hot zone to coordinate relief efforts. They plan on building 17 additional treatment centers and recruit and train medical personnel to staff them. They’ll be providing logistics, engineering and other non-medical support. The military has said that troops will not have direct exposure to patients infected with the virus.
U.S. troops will receive protective gear and specialized training to avoid contracting Ebola. “We’re going to train. We’re going to equip them the best we can. You can never eliminate risk in a military operation. You deal with it. … and the men and women who sign up and serve in the military understand that when they do,” Kirby said. “And I can tell you that should any of our troops fall ill, we’re going to do everything we can to make them better, and to get them back to the treatment that they need.”
Well that is all fine and dandy when you only have 4 patients to treat in one of only 4 hospitals that are set up to handle infectious diseases. The 4 Americans who were brought to the US for treatment were flown in special isolation equipped planes, and transported in full containment suits directly to hospital isolation containment rooms. It still took a large staff of nurses and doctors in full containment gear to take care of them. So how is the military going to get them back to the treatment they need? What if 10 troops fall ill? Or 100 or 300? Are they equipped to handle the evacuation and treatment? What happens when they start coming home? What if they are not yet displaying symptoms until they are on the way home? Are they going to quarantined for a period of time before they can go home to their families and communities?
The World Health Organization has said it needs foreign medical teams with 500-600 experts as well as at least 10,000 local health workers, numbers that may rise if the number of cases increases, as it is widely expected to.
So our troops may not have direct contact with Ebola patients but they may have contact with health care workers from all over the world who may be treating patients directly? So far over 240 doctors, nurses and health care workers have been infected and over 120 have died. Many of those were wearing full protective gear. So now you will have a melting pot of individuals from all over the world who despite their best efforts may still become infected. Every individual becomes a virtual petri dish for Ebola to find a new host and mutate. And mutate to the point it is easily passed from person to person or becomes airborne. The director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota says that the virus – which currently can only be transmitted through contact with bodily fluids – has proven to be “notoriously sloppy in replicating”, which increases the chances that it could turn into something more contagious.
“US health professionals agree it is highly unlikely that we would experience an Ebola outbreak here in the United States, given our robust health care infrastructure and rapid response capabilities,”
“Nevertheless, we have taken extra measures to prevent the unintentional importation of cases into the United States, and if a patient does make it here, our national health system has the capacity and expertise to quickly detect and contain this disease.”
Well that makes me fell better. The truth is in the event of an Ebola pandemic, our healthcare system will be stretched to the limit. If we examine the numbers we can see the frightening scenario. Based on a “mild” pandemic this is what we are looking at:
Population of the United States: 313,000,000
10-20% of the population becomes ill: 31,300,000-62,600,000
Percentage of people requiring hospitalization 10% 3,310,000
Number of hospital beds nationwide: 955,768
Number of ventilators nationwide: 100,000
Hospitals would not be sitting empty just waiting for Ebola patients, many are already fill to capacity with everyday illnesses, cancer patients, new babies, and emergency patients. Those would not go away, they would continue. Doctors offices, hospital emergency rooms and urgent care centers would be filled to capacity with people who are worried they have the Ebola overwhelming the staff and the need for lab results. Those needing hospitalization would flood local hospitals that would have nowhere to put them. Most hospitals have very limited space for isolating patients that would be required in the case of Ebola. World supplies of PPEs (personal protective equipment, or “space suits”), latex gloves, goggles, booties — all the elements of protection — will be tapped out, shortcuts would have to be taken exposing more people to the virus.
There is no doubt that Ebola is spiraling out of control and growing exponentially. If it is not contained soon there may very well be 250,000 people infected by years end. And the more it spreads to other countries the quicker it will spread world wide. Even the worlds leading epidemiologists don’t know how far or how fast this will spread. The economic effects of a worldwide pandemic would be catastrophic.
Now is the time to prepare. Three months, six months or a year from now it may be too late. And to our brave troops-Godspeed.