Ebola is hitting close to home. Literally.
Dr. Kent Brantly, the first Ebola patient in the U.S. and ACU alumnus, is returning to Abilene this week for a homecoming visit. In the same week we learned Brantly was coming, the first person to be diagnosed with Ebola in the U.S. was admitted to a Dallas hospital””a mere 180 miles away from Abilene.
The disease we thought was a continent away and of nearly zero threat to the United States is now making us do a double take.
It was early summer when reports of the outbreak in West Africa began showing up in American news outlets. But U.S. concern really spiked when aid workers, Brantly and Nancy Writebol, were brought to the U.S. after contracting the disease in Liberia. Still, Americans were told not to worry.
On Aug. 5, the Washington Post editorial board said, “With a well-developed public health infrastructure, the virus is not likely to become a contagion in the United States.”
On Sept. 7, President Obama said, “Americans shouldn’t be concerned about the prospects of contagion here in the United States, short-term,” on NBC’s Meet the Press. “Because this is not an airborne disease.”
And then last Tuesday, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed that Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital quarantined the first ever Ebola diagnosis on American soil.
Yesterday, it was reported that a nurse in Spain infected with Ebola continued treating other patients after she caught the virus from a sick missionary priest.
Even though we were surprised and many leading voices were proven wrong, they are still telling us it’s not necessary to break out the hazmat suits. Officials say the general public is not at risk, nor are the passengers on the flight the patient took from Liberia to Dallas because Ebola does not become contagious until the victim begins showing symptoms such as fever or vomiting.
The U.S. is the most equipped country in the world for Ebola to land in. We can respond quickly and effectively with some of the best facilities and medical expertise in the world. But if the disease has been able to make its way to the U.S., what would stop it from spreading to other parts of the world? Specifically countries without modern healthcare systems or the sanitary conditions of the developed world?
While we don’t expect Ebola to make its way to Abilene, we will not be surprised by the efforts of federal governments to quarantine, mass detainments or force treatments against the will of patients. Although they sound drastic, these are the types of measures that are more plausible than we realize when a global pandemic is on the line.
The U.S. should support whatever it takes to help regulate the chaos at the source by educating and informing Liberia on the best methods of care and disease control mechanisms. The U.S. is prepared, so it’s time to invest in preparing others. Maybe Dr. Brantly’s visit to campus on Friday can enlighten us on how to do just that.