Should We Worry About Ebola? Perhaps Not (Yet)!
The news seems filled with stories about Ebola currently. On Thursday the CDC issued its highest level alert, something it has only done twice before. Today, WHO did the same, declaring it an international health emergency.
Newspaper articles tell horrifying stories about Ebola being ‘out of control’ and overwhelming the national health systems of countries like Sierra Leone, and of victims being dragged into the streets and being left there to rot in Liberia.
On the face of it, this is all alarming and concerning. And, as preppers, we are of course always looking for such signs of pending problems. But, if we scratch the surface of the Ebola hysteria, a different type of truth appears.
The current Ebola outbreak in West Africa has resulted in less than 1000 deaths over the course of six months (although this number is steadily increasing). How many other diseases, in Africa and elsewhere in the world, have killed more than 1000 people in the last six months? What makes Ebola so special as to get the CDC and WHO both giving it highest priority, and why does Ebola fill the pages of newspapers at present?
To put this number in perspective, in a typical flu season in the US alone, somewhere over 200,000 are hospitalized and up to 50,000 people die. Yes, up to 50,000 people die of flu every year in the US, but the death of 1000 Ebola sufferers in West Africa now has the US CDC giving Ebola a higher priority status than flu (and a higher priority status than cancer, Aids, and everything else). This really makes no sense.
Ebola surely doesn’t deserve this status because of its ‘rapid’ spread. 1000 people in six months is slow compared to true worst-case scenarios that have occurred in the past. It also isn’t because of its implacable mortality rate. Even with the worst of healthcare facilities in West Africa, it seems that somewhere between 25% and 40% of patients are surviving.
It also isn’t because it jumps from person to person like wildfire. At present it seems that the virus is only spread through contact, not coughing. The CDC say that an infected person can be treated in a regular private hospital room.
Has political correctness now invaded our healthcare system as well as everything else? We are forced to conclude that this is indeed the case.
Now, don’t get us wrong. Ebola is a spectacularly nasty disease, and having two-thirds of the people who get an Ebola infection die is a terrible outcome. It is also true that currently there are no preventative vaccines, and no specific treatments for if/when a person does get an Ebola infection, but work is underway on new treatments and even on vaccines too.
It is also true that our society is more at risk of a global pandemic than ever before. A person can be infected on one side of the world today, and then travel to the other side of the world tomorrow. You may have heard the comment about how everyone in the world is no more than six people away from knowing anyone else, and indeed more recent studies suggest we are now more like only five people away from anyone else – that degree of contact applies to spreading disease, too.
In particular, it takes somewhere from two days to three weeks for an Ebola infection to become apparent in a person, allowing lots of time for that person to travel from somewhere to somewhere else, and the rudimentary type of health screening of arriving passengers at airports around the world will not detect Ebola during this incubation period.
The good news part of the Ebola incubation period is that a person only starts spreading the Ebola infection when they become symptomatic. So we only have to be concerned about the few days between when a person starts feeling ill and coughing, etc, and when they are hospitalized and diagnosed with Ebola.
What Should Preppers Do
There’s precious little we can currently do about Ebola. But you should definitely keep a watching brief on the Ebola news, and understand if the outbreak starts to spread outside of West Africa. The CDC website is a good source of regularly updated information.
It is also helpful – if you haven’t done this already – to plan and prepare for how you could continue to work, without needing to be physically present at your place of employment. For some people, this will be impossible, but if you are an office worker, shuffling papers (more likely, electronically moving computer data these days) or a phone representative, maybe you can spend much of each working day doing your tasks remotely from home.
Your employer should be considering this too. In the event of a pandemic, the business will be at risk as much as you will personally be at risk, and both your survival and the business’ survival might depend on it being able to fragment and ‘virtualize’ with people working other than in one central office.
Beyond that, you should keep your supplies well stocked. Disruptions to the food chain are almost inevitable if society gets crippled by a broad pandemic. You should also keep your medical locker and protective gear fully provisioned too, so that if someone in your group gets afflicted, they can be cared for without endangering the rest of your community.
It is almost certain that one of the first failures in a future pandemic will be our hospitals and healthcare system. Currently there are just over 900,000 hospital beds in the US – one for every 400 or so people. But many of these beds are in use every day, so the number of available vacant beds is very much less.
Something that only affects as few as 0.25% of the population would overwhelm the healthcare system – and even if there were available beds, would there be available nurses and doctors? Even if there were both beds and staff available, would there be available healthcare supplies?
Particularly with some type of virus for which there is no cure, there may be no benefit in being hospitalized, even if it is possible, and especially if you can provide competent palliative care at home.
If any sort of pandemic does start attacking our cities, you need to minimize your contact with other people as much as possible. Try to keep away from all public places, and if you need to go to do shopping, do so in off-hours when the stores are likely to be nearly empty.
One more thing. Your biggest risk of infection is by touching some other contaminated surface (what is called a ‘fomite’ in medical terminology). Be sure to regularly wash your hands, and try to develop an awareness of the surfaces you are coming in contact with. The next time you push open the door in front of you, wonder how many other people have touched the same door handle that you have. A virus might survive some days on the surface of that handle. That’s not to say you can’t safely touch the handle (assuming no cuts in your skin) but it is to say that you need to use hand cleanser or something on your hands on a regular basis – not just prior to eating food, but on an ongoing basis.
Think this through. You touch the infected surface and your hand gets some virus infection on it. You then touch your car steering wheel five minutes later, and transfer the virus to your steering wheel. You step out of the car, and several hours later, someone else gets into the car, and also touches the steering wheel. Your ‘safe’ seeming steering wheel has now infected someone else.
We do not see any cause for undue alarm about Ebola today. We don’t know what the future holds, but as of today, and other than the general preparations we mention above, there’s nothing any of us need to do except remain alert.
In broader terms, we rate it unlikely that Ebola will become an actual threat to our society. But we do consider the wider risk of some type of pandemic to be credible and concerning. We have written several other articles on this topic, which you can see here.