In a recent Fox News op-ed, Dr Tom Frieden, Director of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, argued against a “travel ban” covering the western African nations of Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea, the nations hardest hit by the Ebola epidemic.
I answered most of his objections here.
In his latest piece, though, he raised a new objection, and he sounded like he actually meant it.
When a wildfire breaks out we don’t fence it off. We go in to extinguish it before one of the random sparks sets off another outbreak somewhere else.
Well, yes “we” do. These are called “fire breaks.” The fire teams fighting the wildfires, and the forest fires, do their best to isolate the fires to keep them from spreading by clearing a ring around the fire of combustible material, trying to make the ring wide enough that “random sparks” can’t jump the ring and set off “another outbreak somewhere else.” Nor is this an either-or proposition. While some fire teams are working hard to create that isolation, others are entering the area, fighting the fire directly, and extinguishing it.
So it should be here. We need medical expertise, teams, and supplies going into the three nations to help the locals deal with, bring under control, extinguish the current epidemic. And we need the quarantine—a ban on travel out of those nations, with the travel exceptions outlined in my article at the above link.
Frieden also raised two new objections.
We don’t want to isolate parts of the world, or people who aren’t sick, because that’s going to drive patients with Ebola underground, making it infinitely more difficult to address the outbreak.
It could even cause these countries to stop working with the international community as they refuse to report cases because they fear the consequences of a border closing.
These also are nonsense. Many of these nations’ people already are going underground, and they’re often attacking personnel trying to deal with the dead bodies. That they’re doing both out of ignorance and lack of understanding of the situation doesn’t alter the fact that they’re already doing both. This puts a premium on quarantine, to keep those underground from leaving, anyway.
The need for a quarantine also was demonstrated by the unfortunate situation involving Thomas Edward Duncan, who died last week in Dallas after having travelled from Liberia. He was symptom-free when he arrived in the US. Only a quarantine could have prevented his travel with its potential for spreading the virus.
A quarantine would cause these three nations from cooperating with the “international community” in fighting this epidemic? They would simply be cutting off their own noses. A quarantine still would leave the epidemic isolated and greatly reduced in its ability to spread throughout the same international community.
Frieden is right about one thing.
There is no more effective way to protect the United States against additional Ebola cases than to address this outbreak at the source in West Africa. That’s what our international response…will do.
Indeed. Getting after the source, though, must include a quarantine, in order to keep the source area—already large—at a manageable size while continuing entry into the area and helping the locals.
And having (briefly, long ago) been involved in fighting a forest fire, I would add one thing – it’s hard work, that takes time and must be persisted in when you’re tired and it seems like you aren’t getting anywhere.
Where would you be if you hadn’t done this much?