Monday, October 27, 2014

21 Days: An expert in biological warfare warns against complacency in public measures against Ebola

TheAtlantic: 21 Days

An expert in biological warfare warns against complacency in public measures against Ebola.

“I want to be pleasant through this whole thing,” California Representative Darrell Issa said on Friday, unpleasantly, to a panel of medical experts at a congressional oversight-committee hearing. “But,” he continued, scolding from his perch, “we have the head of CDC—supposed to be the expert—and he’s made statements that simply aren’t true.”

During the tense four-hour session, the subcommittee challenged almost every element of the United States’ response to its domestic Ebola cases so far. Most pointedly, chairman Issa criticized the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s messages to the public.

“Doctor,” Issa said, turning slightly to address Assistant Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services Nicole Lurie, “You can get Ebola sitting next to someone on a bus if they, in fact, throw up on you, can’t you? That’s reasonable?”

.. it is not only Republican politicians who are baldly criticizing the American response to the outbreak and inconsistent public messaging.

This week I received a "monograph" for review from an unlikely, politically removed scientist. It was plainly titled "Summary of Ebola Virus Disease," and written in exhaustive scientific detail. The author was Steven Hatfill.

If the name rings a bell—I don’t want to dwell on this, but it's germane to the context of his perspective I'm sharing here—it’s because he was very publicly, very falsely accused of killing several people with anthrax in 2001.

Hatfill is rightly wary of the media that overwhelmingly convicted him in the court of public opinion, driving him to despair before his acquittal and much less-publicized redemption. But not as wary as he is of his knowledge and perspective on the Ebola outbreak going unheard. His 11,000-word textbook-like research review made several points that are contrary to the mainstream public messaging about Ebola transmission. As he wrote in an accompanying lay explanation: “The initial response to the outbreak of Ebola in the United States has been badly designed, and poorly and incompetently implemented. In their effort to minimize public concern or even panic, the leading health authorities of the United States have made far over-reaching statements and assumptions that are not fully supported by the existing scientific literature.”

For one objection, Hatfill wants it known that, while it must be emphasized that airborne droplet and particle transmission between humans has not been evident in this outbreak, aerosol droplet transmission of Ebola virus has been shown in animal studies. “It is therefore irresponsible for government health officials to emphatically state that aerosol transmission does not occur,” he writes. He also believes the argument against a national quarantine is “inexcusable in light of the size of the current West African epidemic.”

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