Dallas Ebola Patient Dies; Should We Be Worried?

October 27th 2014

ATTN: Staff

Ebola patient Thomas Eric Duncan has died this morning at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital in Dallas. Duncan arrived in the United States on September 20, after contracting Ebola in Liberia. His case, one of the first ones in America, has been a bit of a media spectacle. Despite the rampant fear-mongering across our airwaves, the American people are more pragmatic about their negligible chances of being exposed to the virus than you might think.    

A new study released earlier this week from the Pew Research Center reveals that only 11% of Americans are ‘very worried’ they will be exposed to Ebola virus  The study, which indicates that Americans have more faith in their government to contain the disease (and quarantine the infected) than hysteria might lead you to believe, surveyed more than 1,000 adults between October 2nd and October 5th. 


As the chart above indicates, 58% of Americans have at least a "fair amount" of confidence that the federal government can prevent a major outbreak of Ebola, while 67% of Americans are "not too worried" or "not at all" worried that Ebola will affect someone in their family.

To read more from the study, click here.

We recently spoke with Jonathan Moreno, a professor of medical ethics and health policy at University of Pennsylvania and a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress to learn more about Ebola virus.  Moreno has served as an advisor to many governmental and nongovernmental organizations, including the Department of Defense, the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of Health and Human Services, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. He has also served as a senior staff member for three presidential advisory commissions, and in 2008–09, was a member of President Barack Obama’s transition team. Here is what he had to say:

Bugs don't respect borders. Ever since the full scope of the Ebola outbreak in west Africa became obvious, public health experts were waiting for the other shoe to drop, namely a case first diagnosed in the U.S., likely an airline passenger from that region.  Now that this has happened, our public health infrastructure will do what it does so well: identify the patient's possible contacts and isolate them as needed.  There is every reason to believe that the epidemic will be stopped in its tracks, as the Centers for Disease Control director has said.

And if others are infected because of this case we have the hospital infrastructure to care for them and probably to reach a respectable survival rate, maybe better than 60 percent.  The news from Nigeria today shows that this can be done when the assets are in place -- lots of well-trained personnel with appropriate protective equipment and clean hospitals with air conditioning for those who are wearing that gear.

Unfortunately it's beginning to look like Ebola will be endemic in one of more of the three countries in which this outbreak started. So it has gained an ecological foothold that will require a global vaccination program supplemented by medical therapies.  For example, polio still surfaces in places like Pakistan but with sound institutions it can be contained and victims can be treated.

Let's note two takeaways:

1.  Human beings can learn from their experience.
2.  We need government.

The first takeaway refers to the cumulative history of epidemic responses for the last few hundred years: we know how to put systems in place to manage public health crises.  The second takeaway follows from the first: public health is a great justification for government, no matter how annoying we sometimes find it is to be governed.  There's no business model that can justify a privatized public health system, and certainly not in a globalized world.