Flu-like symptoms in the 1950s were cause for consternation: polio was mostly under control, but a proven vaccine for smallpox wasn’t available until my high school years. Thus parents were justifiably worried a fever might mean the paralysis or death of their child; though now ‘eradicated’, smallpox killed nearly half a billion people in the 20th century.
Asta was ill yesterday and stayed home from classes. By the early afternoon she was running a fever of just under 102. Because of school, violin, brass instruments and guitar lessons, ballet and AP classes, Asta has yet to receive her annual flu vaccination. The rest of our little household have all been inoculated. 1 Of course as Asta’s ill she will have to further wait to be inoculated.
So naturally my first thought yesterday was: Fever = Ebola.
Which was stupid.
And also perfectly (as a parent) logical.
Though certainly a far cry away from being a pandemic, by almost any measure the risk from Ebola in America is certainly greater than the official news organs would allow – wouldn’t want to cause a panic now, n’est-ce pas? But where one Liberian managed to enter the U.S. infected with Ebola, more are sure to follow. If indeed they haven’t already; this time next month will undoubtedly see anywhere from 10 to 20 new cases in the United States. From there math will inexorably take over. We still have what? 50 million people uninsured, people living in the streets , or under bridges, in cardboard boxes, who are out and about in public every day; should one person in that demographic become infected the vectors would be nightmarish.
Worse, Ebola appears to be running rampant in Africa with little chance of being reined in: too many infection points there milling willy-nilly about, creating new infection points, and so on and so on. The African nations involved unfortunately have neither the personnel resources or an administrative infrastructure to effectively contain the virus.
Which is why the president deployed boots on the African ground. However in spite of thousands of our troops sent to assist it is probably a matter of too little too late. The truth of that is reflected in the current international community’s ad hoc thinking: use Ebola survivors as primary care givers in these community centers.
This could have been the U.S. in the 50s and 60s had the medical community not made the decision to step in and do what it took to eradicate polio and smallpox…and still 500 million people died. Africa’s chance at stemming this particular blood tide occurred in the 70s but was (some say) deliberately thwarted by the IMF and the western world’s financial engines (including the good ol’ U.S. of A.) in yet another attempt at ‘nation building.’ So, no – there are not enough medical professionals, not enough government oversight and infrastructure, and certainly too little faith in the west’s medicine to be effective in and of themselves.
And the soon-to-be epidemic has not just flown through our doors; some of the EU states — themselves in the midst of draconian downsizing (due to that pesky world-wide recession Shrub and Company kicked off by meddling in the Middle East on someone else’s dime)– are hardly in much better shape than the African nations. Remember Greece? Really, really broke-ass Greece that is so down on its luck it was willing to throw its citizenry to the wolves if only Germany would loan it more money (it has no hope in hell of repaying)? The Greece that, like Blanche, is only getting by due to the kindness of strangers? Do you really believe the Greeks are up to Ebola? For that matter Spain is still in a wait-and-see mode after fumbling their first known case. And hell, the ‘Stans could all morph into even more of the living hells than they already are should the virus spread there…
Closer to home? Mexico. The country is just a holey fence and some midnight illegal alien crossings away from swamping Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s county with an unprecedented medical emergency. Or do you really believe the drug gangs America’s insane War on Drugs has engendered are going to provide adequate triage and treatment?
If we are very, very lucky this mutation – different from the 70’s version – will not again mutate. However the more people who become infected, the more chance for mutation. So far the virus has remained non communicable when the individual is asymptomatic, but should that change, or if it alters so that it passes airborne, well…let’s not go there.
Where we should go in the future is toward a common good.
We should not sit back and decide that a deadly virus in a god-forsaken corner of the world should be left alone because 1) it only affects the ancestral home of our traditional field hands; besides it 2) moves through the population so fast it has no time to infect a broader population, burning itself out (and its hosts) in a matter of days, a few weeks at most.
Instead we need to lead the effort to expunge the world of such horrors, no matter who they bedevil; your fever is my fever and vice versa. Of course, truth be known, it was always ever thus.
Ebola has finally proven there are no more islands, geography be damned. What we do or don’t do will surely catch up with us from this point forward.
- Though separately: my office no longer offers flu shots so three weeks ago I strolled down to the Brookside CVS and let the nice gentleman in the pharmacy there stick me in the arm, after first assuring him that his lack of medicine prepared for the ‘elderly’ (65 and up) would not be a hindrance to our mutual cause. Nora received her dose at the end of a normal hospital workaday. And Asta Jr. had her nasal passages invaded by the appropriate mist a couple of weeks ago during a routine Girl Scout checkup. ↩