Northeast Ohio has been unintentionally cast in a supporting role in the Ebola crisis, illustrating without question that our contemporary world is a very small place indeed.
And in many ways no less mortal than the pre-digital, house-call world of our grandparents.
When it comes to disease and medical treatment, life in 2014 is a mixed blessing, with fantastic therapies existing alongside potential epidemics. No starker example of this dichotomy is the story of former Akronite Amber Joy Vinson, a 29-year-old health care worker who assisted in the care of Liberian native Thomas Eric Duncan, the first person to die from the deadly virus while in the United States.
Duncan had traveled from Liberia to this country earlier this fall after being in contact with a patient caught in the worst Ebola outbreak since the disease’s discovery in 1976. Vinson was among the health care team that treated Duncan in a Dallas hospital before he died October 8.
According to current medical knowledge, those infected with Ebola are not a danger to others until symptoms begin to appear. Symptoms include fever, body aches and stomach pain. To date, Vinson, another nurse from Dallas and a heath care worker in Spain are the only confirmed Ebola contractions outside West Africa.
The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention—as ambitious a big-government title as you’ll find anywhere—has been walking point for the nation in terms of Ebola and public-health policy. From this corner, the reviews on the CDC’s performance have been mixed, to be charitable. Dr. Thomas Frieden, CDC director, initially pitched an all’s-well theme to America; joining in the chorus were the President and his team, who continue to reinvent that questionable tagline We’re from the government, and we’re here to help.
Then Duncan died. And now Cleveland, Akron, Pittsburgh and the rest of world are learning that Nurse Vinson, after caring for Duncan, flew to Cleveland to visit her mother and plan her wedding. She reported no symptoms at the time of that flight. However, as media report across the globe today, “the news got worse with the revelation that she had flown with a slight fever from Cleveland to Dallas on a crowded airliner barely 24 hours before her diagnosis” earlier this week.
Vinson and her colleague are currently being treated in Atlanta and Maryland respectively, and people who may have had contact with them are being identified and monitored for suspicious symptoms. The press is helping get the word out about this deadly virus. And, no surprise, public officials are experiencing a marked increase in finger-pointing even as they keep a close eye on election-year polls.
What those officials should keep in mind, and borrow from the medical community, is the Hippocratic Oath: First, do no harm. While they’re at it, they might engage the First Postulate to the Hippocratic Oath: Quit posturing and actually take actions that do no harm. A great first application of that postulate would have been an immediate White House travel ban from the African countries that make up the hot zone for Ebola. As of now, and only after much open criticism of the government, the administration has announced tightened restrictions on those arriving from the West African countries dealing with the Ebola outbreak, sending them to five airports for additional health checks.
A virus doesn’t vote, and a virus doesn’t care. People do, though—from Monrovia in Liberia to Mentor in Ohio. LaStar Goss, a resident of West Akron, was speaking for much of the world when she said, “Before…this was just some faraway problem. Now it’s on our doorstep.”
Let’s carefully and thoroughly wipe our feet.
J.F. McKenna, a former resident of Cleveland’s West Park, has worked as a reporter, business editor and communication specialist. He is a former staff editor of such magazines as Industry Week and Northern Ohio Live. His online work also appears on the site Steinbeck Now. A native of Cleveland, he and his wife, Carol, now live in Pittsburgh with their dogs, Duchess Holly and Lord Max. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org .
Welcome to Ebola World
When it comes to disease and medical treatment, life in 2014 is a mixed blessing, with fantastic therapies existing alongside potential epidemics.