[T]his morning, I received an urgent email blast from the Centers for Disease Control containing an early release of this week’s ‘Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report’ (MMWR), which as you might expect comes out weekly. This issue comes out earlier than usual due to the urgent message contained within its paragraphs. This is a scientific, statistical analysis of the outbreak numbers, and weighing the actual reported infections/deaths against the likelihood of under-reporting (more on that in a moment), and then further plotting that on a timeline graph, the CDC’s number crunchers estimate that West Africa could have as many as 1.5 MILLION active cases by end of January, 2015.
We’ve all seen those hockey stick graphs (Al Gore’s favorite), but this one is chilling. Below, you see a graph (courtesy of the CDC) that illustrates the case in point. These are the combined estimates of active cases in Sierra Leone and Libera. Note that the graph on the left is active cases in total (pay close attention to the ‘corrected number’), while the graph on the right is the total number of hospital beds. 1.5 Million sick versus about 100,000 hospital beds.
The report concludes that regardless of current intervention that the Ebola epidemic will ‘burn itself out’, but will it? There are numerous factors to consider, among those are:
1. World response to the call for building additional hospital beds.
2. Local response to health and aid workers. Recently, health workers were attacked while trying to conduct burials. Locals in West Africa do not readily trust individuals from western nations. Some believe that workers are either lying about Ebola or that they are actually spreading the disease.
3. Military response. Currently, the United States, Great Britain, and many other countries have committed to sending in troops to help build hospitals and protect health workers, but will an already suspicious populace react well to finding soldiers outside their homes?
4. The virus itself may mutate. Though you might be hardpressed to find open confessions from CDC workers, the truth is that Ebola is transmissible via the air. However, it is not an effective means for transmission for two reasons. Ebola is a very fragile virus, and it is readily killed by ultraviolet radiation (sunlight) and warm, humid conditions (which abound in West Africa). Also, Ebola is not well adapted to lung tissue, preferring fibroblasts and endothelial cells. However, given the large population and the right ‘selective pressure’, Ebola may evolve into an efficient airborne disease.
5. The corrected numbers are based on the belief that current, ‘hard’ numbers do not adequately portray the outbreak. The hard numbers (those actually reported) are based on identified cases, either by someone turning up at a health clinic or hospital, or someone identified during a house to house campaign like the one that took place this past weekend in Libera’s ‘lockdown’ when everyone was required to remain at home while waiting for authorities to stop by and assess everyone at home. While this sounds plausible, the truth is that news reports told of many panicked citizens who ‘ran away’ and defied the lockdown, sometimes because they were frightened; other times because they were hungry.
6. The report also fails to consider the side-effects of the current outbreak. Many are starving, sending their immune systems into further shock, making them prime targets for infection. Medical and ancillary supplies often ‘disappear’ in tribal areas, where they are hoarded or sold on the black market. Also, many lack nutrition and/or clean water. Most of Libera’s urban areas are more ghettos than neighborhoods, allowing Ebola to easily hop from one carrier to another. Remember, the incubation period is as high as 21 days, so many who carry the disease do not appear sick.
7. Antivirals are currently being tested, but the world’s supply is about to run out. Trial vaccines have been shipped to the hardest hit areas, but this may simply result in more chaos as locals panic at any injection, either because they fear that western helpers are spreading the disease or fear of side-effects (a very real concern).
All this assumes that Ebola will remain tightly concentrated within a cluster of West African nations, but that is absurd and wishful thinking. With 21 days to hibernate inside a carrier, Ebola virus will eventually make it to another country aboard a ship, a train, a bus, or a plane. It may already be here.
Do you know Christ as Savior? If not, please ask Him now. You may not have another chance.