Paranoia pandemic possible but Ebola epidemic not on the cards in US

RASHMEE ROSHAN LALL October 17, 2014

Medical care in the US is light years away from this, in West Africa

General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, may have been infected by the Ebola panic but for a more commonsense view, turn to the private sector.

Bill Scotting, chief executive of Arcelor-Mittal Mining, told the BBC on Thursday morning that it was very clear that adequate precautions – while handling the bodies of those who died from Ebola – could prevent infection. It is not transmitted through the air, he said clearly and simply, putting General Dempsey to shame. We’re taking care but continuing with business as usual, he added. This is worth noting because Arcelor Mittal (and other companies) have extensive business interests in Liberia.

It was an effective reminder of the differences between big government and big business.

Business, which has to worry about balance sheets and investors’ interests, doesn’t have the luxury of swapping scares the way General Dempsey did on CNN with his dark suggestion that the Ebola virus could mutate and be transmitted through the air.

“If you bring two doctors who happen to have that specialty into a room, one will say, ‘No, there is no way it will ever become airborne, but it could mutate so it could be harder to discover. Then it will be an extraordinarily serious problem. I don’t know who is right. I don’t want to take that chance, so I am taking it very seriously,” he said.

It’s just a sign of Ebola paranoia, as Paul Slovic, president of Decision Research, a nonprofit that studies public health and perceptions of threat, told The New York Times. “Officials will have to be very, very careful. Once trust starts to erode, the next time they tell you not to worry – you worry.”

This, despite the hard reality, which is that flu could be a whole lot more dangerous for Americans. Some years, flu killed nearly 30,000 in the US. So far, just one person has died of Ebola in the States. The Ebola virus can’t travel like measles or SARS virus. And anywhere that has decent medical care is fairly safe from an epidemic. Of Ebola.

As for a paranoia plague – no innoculation possible but commonsense and restraint.