Catlin Gabel School, Catlin Speak
By now, everyone is aware of the rampant outbreak of Ebola, a haemorrhagic fever that strikes the vascular system and attacks multiple organs. What people are still in contention over is if there is likely to be an alarming epidemic in the United States.
It certainly doesn’t calm people down when news sites that are widely read such as CNN publish articles titled, “Deadliest Outbreak of Ebola Virus: What You Need to Know.” That article was published on Sept. 18 and it is not surprising that by Oct. 14, the Washington Post wrangled up a poll stating, “two thirds of Americans worried about widespread epidemic in US.”
The severity of the 2014 Ebola epidemic has not been exaggerated in West Africa. However, the United States is fairly safe from epidemics because of medical access and proximity to clean water. According to water.org, 345 million people in Africa are without access to safe water, which is more than the population of the United States.
It is true that in today’s globalized world, it is much easier for a disease to spread and become an epidemic. Increased air travel is one of the main mechanisms for the spread of diseases. Airports are attuned to this and many, such as the local Portland International Airport, claim they are ready and mobilized in the event of an outbreak. The Portland Airport is in partnership with the Multnomah County Health Department, and they have a response plan ready if the airport EMT’s warns about any passenger suspected to have Ebola.
For instance, there was recently an Ebola scare at the Portland Airport when a child on a flight from Lagos, Nigeria, was throwing up. The crew on the plane contacted the Portland Airport and on arrival, the child was taken into the custody of medical officials and given an evaluation. When he didn’t present any symptoms but the consumption of a superfluous amount of junk food, the boy was cleared. This incident shows the efficiency of the Portland Airport’s plan for responding to the potential danger of Ebola.
Also alerted to this scare was Catlin Gabel parent Billie Courtney, who works in pediatrics at Randall Children’s Hospital in the Legacy Emanuel Medical Center. Courtney works adjacent to the infectious diseases ward and thus is aware of the dialogue about a response plan and the concerns about Ebola.
Courtney recounts the scare: “He had been vomiting, so RCH was alerted that if he was not cleared by a physician at the airport, he would be transported to our hospital. A committee formed that a.m. and reviewed our isolation protocols. Luckily this young man had had his fill of junk food and was ill from overdoing it with sugar!”
Based on the thoroughness of the investigation and the prioritizing of safety exhibited by both the Portland Airport and Randall Children’s Hospital, Courtney says, “I do feel confident that our team is ready if and or when Ebola strikes the Portland area. Let’s just hope it never happens.”
It is justified for Oregonians to be fearful about an epidemic, for if one struck it would be serious. In the circumstances of an epidemic, the fatality rate for Ebola can jump from 50 percent to 90 percent. The disease is serious and discussion around it is as well, but many local authorities are saying that it is incredibly unlikely that an epidemic will come to Oregon.
On Oct. 17, the CEO of Legacy Emanuel, George J. Brown M.D, sent an update to all Legacy and related staff. The first paragraph read, “In light of the ongoing news about Ebola here in the United States, we wanted to continue to update you about our efforts to prepare for the safety of our staff while providing the highest quality of care, in the highly unlikely event that a confirmed case of Ebola will present to a Legacy hospital or clinic.”
The rest of the email outlines protocol and announces an Ebola preparedness training class. However, all of this was amended by the statement that occurrence of an Ebola epidemic is “highly unlikely.”
Another community member that thinks Ebola is not an epidemic Oregon should be concerned about, is Catlin Gabel science teacher Veronica Ledoux. Ledoux, who is an expert in epidemiology and teaches a class on pathogens and their behavior, nominates that the seasonal flu should be much more concerning to Oregonians than Ebola.
Ledoux remarks, “The media hype is doing vastly more damage than good.”
Ledoux also points out that the last largest epidemic of Ebola occurred in 1976 and since then, drug companies still haven’t made strides to develop a cure: “It’s worth thinking about the number of people who have died from Ebola vs. the amount of money spent on the epidemic (a pretty skewed ratio), in comparison to other epidemics like tuberculosis, malaria, water borne pathogens like cholera, etc. Also worth thinking about how we’ve known about Ebola since 1976, but drug companies have seen no need to develop treatments/vaccines until now, as there was never any profit in it.”
Looking forward whether or not there is a case of Ebola in Oregon, local health officials are prepared and have plans for response but ultimately don’t see an Ebola epidemic as a threat to Oregonians.