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You have nothing to fear from Ebola but fear itself

You have nothing to fear from Ebola but fear itself

There are serious infectious diseases to worry about, but Ebola is not one of them (for now).

As an environmental health and safety professional who has written a book about “bloodborne pathogens,” such as the Ebola virus, I read with both interest and alarm Bruce Carrol’s post, No concerns here: Ebola patients headed to Georgia.

Shortly after writing that book, I was hired by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) in Atlanta to present a safety training program. While I was there, I was privileged to tour their containment facilities, which were highly impressive. The personnel in charge of running those facilities were also (and remain), highly trained, very professional, and have well placed pride in their innovative and protective measures.

I would like to give you an idea of what goes into a BioSafety Level 4 Containment Facility, to which the Ebola-infected Americans are being sent:

  • The use of a positive pressure personnel suit, with a segregated air supply, is mandated.
  • Entrances and exits  contain multiple showers, a vacuum room, an ultraviolet light room, and other safety precautions designed to destroy all traces of the biohazard.
  • Multiple airlocks are employed and are electronically secured to prevent both doors from opening at the same time.
  • Members of the laboratory staff have extremely thorough training in handling extremely hazardous infectious agents, and have already had much experience in handling lower hazard biological agents.
  • The containment facility is either in a separate building or in a controlled area within a building, which is completely isolated from all other areas of the building.

For the very interested Legal Insurrection fan, more information is given here.

In other words, if I were an American infected with Ebola, this is where I would want to be sent. The most knowledgeable medical experts on exotic infectious diseases are there and this facility is best equipped to stop the spread of the pathogen to anyone else.

And, as an American citizen, this the CDC facility is the best place in the country for anyone the disease to be sent so that its spread can be rapidly contained.

As someone versed in biosafety issues, I understand the concerns expressed in Legal Insurrection reader comments. Yes, the ongoing VA hospital scandal makes us question government-run healthcare. However, the biggest problem with the VA is its bureaucrats. The professionals at the Emory University hospital, however, are on the frontlines of the battle against infectious disease and aren’t going to cut corners and fake numbers. It would death to do so.

Also, while there have been very concerning incidents with anthrax and H5N1 strain of influenza, the CDC has been very aggressive in its handling of these situations. Given the terrible consequences of Ebola infection and the public fears associated with the largest outbreak of the disease in history, strict biosafety protocol will be the order of the day for handling our fellow Americans now suffering from the disease.

Another reason to be heartened by the fact that the Americans are now at the Georgia facility is that it allows medical professionals to develop treatments and work on ways to vanquish the pathogen.

As for the American health care workers, one possibility is that Writebol was given a concentrated form of antibodies to the virus from someone who survived, Schaffner said. To make such a treatment, researchers would have to separate and concentrate the antibodies from a survivor’s blood.

If Writebol did receive such an immune serum, it would almost certainly have to have been created at the site of the outbreak, and have come from someone infected with the same strain of Ebola that she has, said Thomas Geisbert, a virologist at the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston, who has helped develop potential Ebola drugs.(There are several species of Ebola virus; the current outbreak is caused by one called the Zaire species.)

Brantly is reportedly receiving a transfusion of whole blood from a 14-year-old patient who survived the disease.

I totally understand why many are skeptical of government statements of reassurance at this point. But, in terms of real-world disease risk assessment, I would like to offer news that is actually more worrisome. There are serious outbreaks of chickenpox among the illegal immigrants flooding into our nation:

The federal government’s new facility to house illegal immigrant families surging across the border has been put on lockdown because of chicken pox, with no immigrants allowed to be transferred in or out, a congressman said this week

Chickenpox can be a life-threatening disease, especially among adults who have never been infected. Many years ago, an acquaintance of mine died from contracting chickenpox at 26 (and which as complicated by her anorexia). In fact, one study over 12 years indicated there were 269 adult deaths.

In conclusion, if I had any advice to give those who want to do something to address their fears about infectious disease, I would ask them to channel those fears into effective action as to the infectious diseases that pose a substantial threat to public health.


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DINORightMarie | August 2, 2014 at 4:16 pm

Good to know.

I don’t trust the federal government with much, if anything, but from what you write this may be a time they are doing the right thing. Let’s hope they are up to the task, as you say.

I truly hope they don’t have any unplanned events, breaches, or irregularities. This is the worst virus known to man at present, as you know.

Thanks for posting on this!

    JackRussellTerrierist in reply to DINORightMarie. | August 3, 2014 at 12:11 am

    Human error, human duplicity.

    “We’re from the government and we’re here to help.”

    NEVER trust the bastards. Surely people have seen enough by now to fully grasp this?

    Apparently not.

      with a heaping helping of elitist hubris on top.

      what could go wrong?

        MattMusson in reply to Paul. | August 3, 2014 at 9:47 am

        It does not inspire confidence that the author bought into the Administration’s ChickenPox cover story. If you think that the holding facilities are under quarentine because of ChickenPox, you need to read those stories much closer.

        Drug resistant Tuberculosis is much more dangerous. But, for those who want to see the best case scenario – you believe the lie that the problem is ‘ChickenPox’.

I see the benefits outweighing the risks. The tradeoff is worth it.
Gaining an antibody from someone who fights off the disease is a tremendous benefit to all who who will need it.
All precautions are being taken, I have no doubt.

I don’t care how fancy and modern the facility is, I’ve seen Andromeda Strain.

All it takes is a mistake or a misunderstanding or a lack of integrity on the part of either the operators or the gear.

Plus let’s admit that they’re being brought here for one reason and one reason only; for the CDC and The Military to capture samples for research.

That could be good and it could be bad.

Yeah, I know Tin Foil Hat territory.

But really do we really want them to have that stuff on our soil?

    JackRussellTerrierist in reply to jakee308. | August 3, 2014 at 12:19 am

    As long as obamullah, Valerie Jarrett and Eric Holder lurk in DC, there’s NOTHING to trust.

    This is an evil and grossly incompetent administration, which includes any departments that are health-related.

    obamullah hates our military so much I would not be surprised to eventually learn of viral experimentation on our veterans. “Here”, the doc said, holding a clipboard out to a semi-conscious veteran in a drug-induced state, “just sign right there to participate in a very promising experimental drug program for your condition.”

    JackRussellTerrierist in reply to jakee308. | August 3, 2014 at 1:05 am

    Heh…..just stumbled across this little gem, U.S. to do human testing of Ebola vaccine:

    SRaher in reply to jakee308. | August 4, 2014 at 3:58 pm

    Are you aware that “The Andromeda Strain” was fiction?

Subotai Bahadur | August 2, 2014 at 4:42 pm

With all due respect, IF everyone does what they are supposed to, if no political people short circuit procedures for private or selfish reasons, and if oversight can be maintained; yeah it is the thing to do.

However, we have to look at the people who are both working there and those who are running things. These are the people who seem to lose anthrax routinely. These are the people who left vials of live Smallpox, Dengue Fever, and a host of other epidemic diseases in an unsecured storage closet for decades.

And like everywhere else in the civilian Executive Branch, no one has been held accountable for this or any screwups. And the leadership of the Department of Health and Human Services, which runs CDC, is one of the most politicized and least professionally qualified Executive Departments in the government due to the need to defend Obamacare.

It is not unreasonable to have severe doubts about the wisdom of bringing Ebola into the country, especially when at the exact same time the CDC is deliberately letting thousands infected with drug resistant TB, H1N1, Pertussis, Diptheria, and other diseases be transported and released throughout the country with no screening or tracking. Their commitment to protecting the American people can be reasonably questioned.

There are serious infectious diseases to worry about, but Ebola is not one of them (for now).

For now? What does that mean? I appreciate the reassurances, but why risk shortening your “for now” time frame?

BannedbytheGuardian | August 2, 2014 at 5:20 pm


An outbreak would surely improve Atlanta’s traffic problems .

Atlanta’s schools would be able to openly up all kids tests 100% because of the stress .

Infected Atlantans would head off to the White Flight Zone up in Dem Der Hills & thus reduce the population of Rednecks .

MARTA would again be a model transport system ( no passengers ) .

What’s not to like says Mr Atlanta Mayor . ” surely we can cancel those snow ploughs .”

I doubt there’s much to be learned from one or two Ebola patients being transported into the USA… other than the breathtaking arrogance of doctors and scientists who think they’re able to conquer nature. MRSA anyone?

Yes, they can try experimental treatments but one patient surviving isn’t proof of anything, much less a “cure”.

The reason why you don’t want to bring infected patients into the country is that a human being who is infected is a thousand times more dangerous than a virus in a test tube under strict containment. As the virus progresses and attacks the brain, that patient can become irrational and violent, endangering the lives of healthcare workers here. Any potential cure is going to come from one of the many laboratories working on Ebola, not from Emory.

    BannedbytheGuardian in reply to Sanddog. | August 2, 2014 at 5:42 pm

    Apparently EbolaMan is on his computer tapping away . Computer virus has taken on a whole new dimension .

    JackRussellTerrierist in reply to Sanddog. | August 3, 2014 at 12:24 am

    All true, and way too much common sense for the federal government to grasp.

    I’m hoping that they’re just bringing these docs back because they want to die at home and that their remains will be disposed of in a scientifically safe manner.

Translation: “Trust the experts.”

I pray those words don’t come back to haunt you but, this being the real world, they might.

Leslie: thank you for this article. Were either of these two people part of my family I would want them to receive the very best care. First, they both should be lauded for the good work they have done and the tremendous risk they took. I think they will receive excellent care and there will be no incidents related to their hospitalization.

But, I too have concerns about a government that would construct a BSL4 facility at the U.T. Medical Branch in Galveston, TX on the Gulf Coast. Is there any doubt this was built purely through political clout? But, they have procedures in place to deal with hurricanes so we can be assured it is in good hands, right?

Also, Emory University, where these patients are being taken, had an incident several years ago at their National Primate Center involving a young student researcher (the daughter of physicians) who died of B-virus, a potentially fatal disease in humans. She contracted the disease while handling non-human primates. It was later discovered there were no written operating procedures for working with these animals for that procedure. I believe they were performing a tuberculin test on the primates and this young lady was volunteering her time to help. She should have been wearing a mask and eye goggles and other protective wear. She had fluid splashed in her face and thought nothing of it. Even though other people had contracted B virus in the recent past in the United States, and some had died, and others are on lifetime treatment with Acylovir, there were still no operating procedures or training to protect their staff from this well-known disease.

One thing that sticks in my mind was an employee in Pensacola who contracted B-virus and was treating some unrelated sores with a cream that his wife also used. They suspect she got the disease by sharing that cream with her husband. He died and she is on lifetime treatment. There is so much we do not know and we have to trust the experts to use the utmost caution and exercise more discretion working with a BSL4 agent then they do when handling BSL2 and BSL3 agents. Since BSL4 agents can kill, I trust they will be more careful and forgo their God-like mentality until this passes.

all very reassuring…

except, of course, that i’ve been in healthcare since 92, and there isn’t a single protocol, policy or standard that i haven’t see someone break, either accidentally or on purpose.

people are stupid (myself included) and do dumb things all the time, even if they know better. bringing the virus here was unnecessary and invasive, which are both contraindicated from a medical POV.

there was NO medical need to do this, and everyone involved should be charged and prosecuted for needlessly endangering the American public.

IMHO, of course.

ScottTheEngineer | August 2, 2014 at 6:08 pm

The way I see it they should be brought here. I’d want to be. In any case they’re here. The problem I see is that these are both doctors the knew they were working with Ebola, knew everything about it that there is to know and they still got infected. We’ll get it here. Its out of the box.

    the way you deal with infectious disease outbreaks is you quarantine the area. this is the opposite of that. if you knowingly go into an area with an outbreak of a disease like this, that’s your choice, but sound medical policy is to NOT evacuate you if you get sick, because that SPREADS the disease.

    this was an incredibly stupid decision by a whole lot of people who should have known better.

      ScottTheEngineer in reply to redc1c4. | August 3, 2014 at 6:02 pm

      I have to agree but at this point what difference does it make.
      If the Ebola don’t get you the TB will.
      Liberals absolutely hate people.

    ScottTheEngineer in reply to ScottTheEngineer. | August 3, 2014 at 5:58 pm
    And then this happens.
    “The patient’s symptoms suggest that Ebola is very unlikely but as a precaution this is one of the tests being undertaken.

    “The patient was not symptomatic on the plane and therefore there is no risk of Ebola being passed on to either flight crew or other passengers.

    “England has world class health care and disease control systems which are active permanently, ­regularly tested and proven to be effective.

    “As such, if the UK does see a case of imported Ebola, this will not result in an outbreak in this country.”

    “Nothing to see here folks Move along”- Chief Wiggam

      Sounds like the same boilerplate PR text Public Health England used when trying to convince the citizenry that Mad Cow Disease was not a “thing”, and it could never spread to humans anyway.

I’m more concerned about decom of the a/c used, worked in airline industry for a bit and if anything was to happen this would be the vector.
and as I type this I hear the plane diverted here to KBGR to refuel….

hey isn’t this the same CDC that a while back was condemned for carrying diseases in ziploc bags ??? I’m just sayin

    Sanddog in reply to oejeffrey. | August 2, 2014 at 7:13 pm

    They were taking shortcuts. They put unidentified microbes in ziplock bags to transport between labs. They decontaminated a lab with expired bleach and then failed to put up warning signs once they realized their mistake… potentially exposing others. They misplaced anthrax. They left their keys hanging out of the freezers that contained dangerous pathogens. little things that should never have happened. When people lose their fear, they become sloppy and make potentially life threatening mistakes.

    Anyone who doesn’t fear Ebola or any other level 4 pathogen is an idiot, regardless of their educational level.

BannedbytheGuardian | August 2, 2014 at 7:14 pm

Having just seen the pics of EbolaMan in an ordinary Walmart/ generic Hazmat suit , riding in an ordinary ambulance & walking through a public concourse ….Let me be the first to pronounce Bullshit .


Either he will be miraculously cured because. He does not have it or this is #DecoyMan.

Not adding up babies..

They’re at Emory which doesn’t sound like a level 4 containment facility. The reports are just saying an isolation room. The suit the guy was wearing didn’t appear to be a containment suit, but just a regular hazmat suit one gets when exposed to chemicals or radiation. Sorry, but I’m skeptical.

NC Mountain Girl | August 2, 2014 at 8:54 pm

I am sure the facilities and the procedures are first rate but I do not trust those in charge of enforcing those procedures.

    JackRussellTerrierist in reply to NC Mountain Girl. | August 3, 2014 at 1:53 am

    I also don’t trust our government for “transparency” in this or any other matter, most especially the people in THIS administration. While a few are merely incompetent, most are downright evil bastards.

    Like all of what obamaullah does, bringing Ebola folks in under his watch is a disaster for the American people. We may not know about it for awhile, but be assured this will not turn out well for us.

Robert Starr | August 2, 2014 at 9:11 pm

I only have one peripheral fear.

I do fear that someone may save large quantities of the fluid byproducts from those who are sick. Such a collection would make a cost free, potent, deadly, globally effective bioweapon.

Comparing Ebola to chickenpox. Credibility: shot.

JackRussellTerrierist | August 3, 2014 at 1:42 am

You said, “In other words, if I were an American infected with Ebola, this is where I would want to be sent. The most knowledgeable medical experts on exotic infectious diseases are there and this facility is best equipped to stop the spread of the pathogen to anyone else.”

They wouldn’t need to be concerned about spreading Ebola from that location if the docs weren’t being brought there in the first place.

In the second place, those docs being at Emory will not stop the disease if it comes in another way. It’s irrelevant. Have you ever dealt with the gross stupidity of a TSA agent?

In the third place, sure, most Americans would want to be sent there if they had Ebola, but most Americans would realize that if they go looking for trouble and find it, they have no right to impose it on their countrymen. Sometimes life deals you a devastating or deathly blow. You just suck it up and you don’t bring others down with you. Yes, these are brave people, but they knowingly went to a hot zone and knew the risks. And they didn’t go to help Americans. Why are we supposed to just suck it up because they made a brave but dangerous decision?

Fourth, you’re buying the federal government’s line. It is not an organization with a great track record, especially of late, for truthfulness, efficiency or competency. I’m sure we could find plenty of veterans who would warm rapidly to the subject and explain this to you in terms you can understand. Or you could just talk to the families of the veterans who died due to VA (federal government) incompetence and negligence.

By the way, speaking of negligence, there’s a post up above by someone else talking about some of the CDC’s mishandling of level 4 diseases…..and the resulting deaths. You might want to do some research on the CDC’s history in handling level 4 infectious diseases before giving them props.

I am not going to echo the intelligent concerns raised here. I am going to say that I have been on the periphery of the HIV epidemic since about 1997, and I have watch in horror as bad public policy allowed HIV infections in this country bloom and produce a macabre fruit in the form of greatly increased numbers of deaths.

I am not terribly concerned about the two individuals carefully conveyed here under sharp scrutiny, so much as the high number of medical workers who have been infected, coupled with the movement of at least one infected medical person through two or three airports shortly before his death.

Further in light of these failures, we are importing hundreds of people from what should be quarantined areas to our nation’s capital, telling our government employees to stay home if they can, and be aware that the government may be shut down.

I do not think our government has collectively learned anything from the HIV epidemic. We are risking the lives of ordinary people so that the President can get his photo-op. For shame.

Leslie, I think your “for now” just ended.

Staff tell of fears as jet from Africa is quarantined after the death of passenger who was ‘sweating and vomiting’ before she collapsed

Sweating and vomiting. Sweet.

    JerryB in reply to JerryB. | August 3, 2014 at 11:16 pm

    Preliminary test: not ebola. Whew!

    For now.

      JackRussellTerrierist in reply to JerryB. | August 4, 2014 at 4:37 am

      There is no upside to the Brits reporting that it was indeed Ebola. Maybe it was, maybe it wasn’t. But the government wouldn’t say so if it was. They may well be sitting there with their fingers and toes crossed hoping for the best outcome, which would be nobody else being infected.

        They tried to cover up the Mad Cow Disease (BSE – Bovine Spongiform Encepholopathy) epidemic and the link between eating beef from infected cattle and getting the human variation of BSE, CJD (Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease), for years. Even when the news of a few CJD deaths made it to the media, Public Health England played it down, doing their typical “don’t get excited, nothing to see here; trust us, we’re the experts” routine.

        Being able to do that is one of the features of a government-run health system. The medical is the political, and the politicians need only to order things done “for the good of the nation” and they are done. “All ur doctors and nurses are belong to us”.

    JerryB in reply to JerryB. | August 4, 2014 at 7:12 am

    Oops: ScottTheEngineer had the UK story first.

I normally enjoy this blog. The content is great and the comments are informed and insightful. Not today.

We have an actual expert giving their opinion on ebola, and many of you are acting like you know better for no good reason. If you think “trust me, I’m an expert” is not a good reason to trust an expert, then you can’t get blamed if you manage to remove yourself from the gene pool.

I am not a medical doctor. I am not a lawyer. But as a meteorologist, I am still an expert under a few conditions which could decide whether you live or die. For example, if I say “take cover, you are about to be hit by a tornado”, I am probably far more informed than your neighbor who says “don’t worry, we never get hit by tornadoes” (an actual interaction I had with a relative earlier this year).

Everyone, no matter how educated and qualified, can make mistakes. The reason why we have highly educated individuals is because they are less likely to make simple mistakes. It’s fine to be anti-intellectual, anti-academia: most highly educated people are full of themselves to some extent. But for the love of God, why don’t you listen to the person actually qualified to talk about a subject, rather than indulging in your own crackpot conspiracies.

    Valerie in reply to Mr85. | August 4, 2014 at 1:27 pm

    You don’t know the background of some of these people. Did you wholly fail to notice that many of them are speaking from experience?

    JerryB in reply to Mr85. | August 4, 2014 at 7:43 pm

    anti-intellectual, anti-academia … crackpot conspiracies

    At least we’re not racist or sexist.

    Two things. First, if the disease is already here, then I’d want the top dogs taking care of it. However, we’re bringing the disease here. That’s a policy matter. Second, as many have pointed out here, there are substantial reasons for doubting medical experts, especially CDC types. For example, take the chicken pox vaccine. To eradicate this mostly harmless virus, the experts took a murdered child, grew the virus in its flesh, and got the gov’t to require its injection into every child. That’s not science. That’s macabre.

    Fen in reply to Mr85. | August 5, 2014 at 4:10 pm

    “We have an actual expert giving their opinion on ebola..”

    We also have 2 other “experts” on ebola who managed to get themselves infected. And their stories aren’t adding up.

    Sanddog in reply to Mr85. | August 5, 2014 at 4:25 pm

    I wasn’t aware we had an actual expert in filoviruses commenting on this site.

IMHO I don’t think it was a good idea to bring the infected ones to this country. while the Reston Va. outbreak was contained to the facility will we always be that lucky?
there is always the human error factor add that over time these things get forgotten. recently vials of active smallpox had been found in unsecured storage facilities and then theres Anthrax and fringe people out there making Ricin. worst case scenario, this wouldn’t be the first time the govt released an infectious agent on the population to study the spread.

a 2012 study while inconclusive did show that inoculated piglets were put in a lab with primates but with no direct contact and over time the primates were all infected

“Demonstration of fatal aerosol transmission of this virus in monkeys reinforces the importance of taking appropriate precautions to prevent its potential aerosol transmission to humans.”

Perhaps our expert can weigh in on this study. Yes, I know, the CDC plays word games with “airborne” by saying that the ebola droplets are too large to be considered such. But the fact remains that this study proved Ebola can vecter though inhalation, not just contact with bodily fluids.