Ebola Panic vs. the Ebola Pandemic

In the following video, Bill Whittle talks about Ebola, or more accurately, the current media panic over Ebola. He rightly highlights the massively corrupt incompetence of the Obama administration in its inept handling of the Ebola outbreak in the United States, and points out that the fear of Ebola that seems to have engulfed the country is largely due to the perception that the administration is incapable of dealing with the disease in a timely and effective fashion.

He then goes on to discuss the way in which the epidemic — which is not yet an epidemic here or in Europe, not by a long shot — is irrationally over-hyped by the media, feeding into the general hysteria. I have only two (relatively minor) quibbles with his talk:

1.   Airborne transmission. It is widely asserted that Ebola cannot be contracted through airborne droplets. However, some specialists disagree, and think that aerosolized transmission is theoretically possible. I don’t see much evidence of it in the U.S. outbreak, since only two people who had direct personal contact with the Liberian victim have come down with the disease so far. But it’s early days, and I won’t rule it out.
2.   Infection through the skin. It is also said that Ebola cannot be contracted through contact with healthy skin. However, once again some scientists disagree. I don’t know enough to have an opinion on this aspect of the contagion.

I’ll be discussing one further aspect of the disease that Bill Whittle doesn’t mention. But first, let’s hear what he has to say:

In his essay about Ebola last Thursday, Fjordman mentioned the fact that as the virus spreads more and more widely, it will also become less deadly.

This true of all pandemic diseases. It is a statistical certainty that a deadly virus will become less deadly as it infects more and more victims, provided that it mutates from time to time, which all viruses do. Call it Darwinian mechanics: if a variant of the pathogen kills fewer of its victims, then more of its victims will walk around longer sweating and excreting, transmitting it to even more victims while those infected are still contagious. During the course of the spread of the disease there is an overwhelming selective pressure on the pool of related viruses in favor those that are less deadly.

The number of victims of a deadly disease increases exponentially as long as R0 — the average number of persons infected by a victim of the disease — is greater than one. However, the deadliness of the disease decreases exponentially at the same time. The rub of the matter is, of course, that the increase in incidence may be far more rapid than the decrease in virulence.

A prime example of this process is the great influenza epidemic of 1918-1919, which was exceptionally deadly, and killed more than 600,000 Americans in a very short period of time. Over the course of the epidemic, about thirty million victims are thought to have died worldwide — a large number, more than had died in the Great War, yet less than two percent of the world population at the time.

The disease disappeared very quickly as soon as it had spread widely. Within a few months, the worst was over. Within a few years it had become just another endemic virus, the ancestor of many of today’s flu variants, which are generally deadly only to the very young, the very old, and those with compromised immune systems.

Ebola is more deadly than the 1918 influenza. However, it also seems to be less contagious — R0 for the “Spanish Flu” is estimated to have been between 2 and 3, whereas for Ebola it is thought to be about 2.

So watch for Ebola to mutate and decrease in deadliness as the number of its victims continues to increase. I won’t venture to predict what the situation will be like in six months or a year, but it’s a safe bet that the disease will not remain as deadly as it is now.

Another interesting aspect of the Ebola epidemic that hasn’t been discussed much in the media, as far as I know, is whether it will behave any differently in a northern clime than it does in Central and West Africa. The virus evolved in a tropical environment. Will its R0 be any different in, say, Helsinki or Sitka than it is in Monrovia?

I haven’t read about any experiments being conducted to investigate the effects of latitude on the spread of Ebola. However, we may have a lot of real-time data to draw on in another six months or so.

13 thoughts on “Ebola Panic vs. the Ebola Pandemic

  1. After you watch Bill Whittle discuss “Fear of Ebola” . . . in which he tempers fear with
    rational science, please take the time to read this “Weekly Standard” article, Six Reasons to Panic which explains why this rational science brings out the fear in all of us. Sobering stuff, yet with all those considerations, consider also, WashingtonExaminer: Pentagon readies Ebola response team (for domestic cases as they arise). Such is the ‘brave new world’ we face.

  2. Furthermore, I find Whittle quite within the PJ milquetoast profile, either pulling his punches on issues in which he has a good take or refusing to tackle the controversial gist of such issues at all.

    The crux of the matter is that BHO is intentionally infecting America with Ebola, to make us feel the pain of his African brethren and to topple some more dominoes in his Clowad-Piven grand design . What else does one need as proof than his sending 4000 US soldiers with 4 hours of treaining and no hazmat suits to deal with Ebola in Africa, refusing to close the borders, refusing to halt flights from West Africa or to stop issuing visas to West Africans, lying brazenly in a public address that such measures would make the crisis worse, — all at the same time as the slowdown of the spread of Ebola in Africa is unequivocally credited to the closing of borders.

    I recommend these pieces as complement to way-too-timid Whittle:

    Porous Borders and Ebola

    Since Ebola Outbreak, Obama Administration Has Made It Easier for West Africans Who Come to America

    Obama Is Risking a U.S. Ebola Outbreak for His Own African Ambitions http://www.thefiscaltimes.com/Columns/2014/10/15/Obama-Risking-US-Ebola-Outbreak-His-Own-Ambitions

    Reported Source of New Virus Killing Kids: Obama’s “Unaccompanied Alien Children”

    • It is not the ebola sickness that will kill many.

      It is the flow on costs in the hospitals and health systems that the tax payer will ultimately fund. Hospitals setting up, special wards, or wings, with all the facilities for super isolation.Then managers, eventually dedicated nurses and Doctors for hopefully very few patients..
      Funding all this will not be cheap and then the protocols for the ones involved with caring for a patient, possible 21 days quarantine.
      The effect on the carers and their families, as will they have to keep a quarantine, and constant monitoring.

      The flow on effect to the public, in particular with tax payer systems, as the time involved for nurses and doctors and the extra protocols in place, would make it seem if there is shortage of medical staff. It would seem to me that though a hospital is supposed to take time in the care of their patients, efficiency per doctor/nurse directly relates to the price charged per patient or cost to tax payer.

      If this becomes over riding with just a drip feed of ebola cases, I do wonder about the flow on effect for elective surgery, that may be essential for people to get on with life, may have to be postponed. It would cause a triage effect, as many people who have a minor problem, that may make it difficult to work, and just a small surgery/treatment would make them as good as new, and so now would end up on long waiting lists to be managed with possibly even more eventual complications. The stitch in time saves 9.

      We believe that our western style medical systems can easily control such problems in the west, and it will, if we give it all the resources.
      The real issue to me is the bleeding ($), and though we appear to cope, it is our Achilles’s heel of the west. Will be it just be a minor cut, that will scab over with just a band-aid ($), or develop an itch, requiring some more funds or will it ulcerate and become a small hemorrhage ($) that one can continue with a lot of bandages ($) and hopefully not deepen to weaken some major veins or an artery (major $) so the west is severely weakened, as mentioned as a Cloward-Piven set up

      Over 30 countries now have travel bans or restriction, almost all of the African countries. This one of the ways of bringing the the disease the disease under control. I think essential trade may still continue, though a bit more slower and perhaps a few changes done. Ultimately what they are doing is protecting their scarce health resources.
      If they can I would believe they also try and isolate areas too.

      The media wind up the death and disease effect, but I want the costs and benefits of not only country quarantines to be compared to our costs to our medical systems.
      That is where some journalist should be looking into.

      Money is not every thing I know, but the most effective use of it, will save lives, and lead onto enhancing many lives.


  3. I agree ebola won’t kill everybody – and may not be like the influenza of 1918… that said – I’ve read that the virus can stay on doorknobs and other objects for up to a few. Once it lands on someone’s skin, a simple scratch of one’s itchy face may be enough for transmission to take place. It also has a long incubation period (up to 3 weeks) – which eases transmission over long distances.

    There is also the case of the nurse in Spain, who I heard was probably infected simply by touching with her hand hear sweaty forehead, after taking off her protective suit. So it does seem to be quite easy to catch ebola, if near a sufferer. (I learnt that I myself am 3 handshakes from that nurse, but am not panicking just yet :))

    Apparently in the ebola epidemic countries at the moment (Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone), people are not shaking hands, handling money with gloves and taking other precautions.

    So… while ebola may not kill everyone, what impact will it have on our daily lives? How will it be to touch objects on public transport, or lift weight at the gym? And what impact will it have on the nightclub scene, and student life? Will it be considered safe merely to scratch one’s face if it itches?

    In summary – will the disease’s main impact be not in the number of people it kills, but on the way we lead our lives?

    • The point isn’t how efficiently the disease is spread, but whether it will remain as deadly as it is now. If the number of those infected continues to double at the current rate, within ten months there will have been more than 100 million victims. If that happens, we can state with certainty that Ebola will not be as deadly as it is now. If it follows the pattern of the influenza epidemic, the mortality rate will be below 5% by then.

      I’m emphasizing this pattern because no one else seems to be talking about it. It has been a feature of every single deadly epidemic in the past, including the Black Death and the bubonic plague. As long as viruses continue to mutate (and I don’t see any reason for them not to; the presence of ultraviolet wavelengths in the solar spectrum guarantees that they will), Darwinian mechanics will ensure that they eventually become less deadly to their hosts. The more rapidly they spread, the more quickly their virulence decreases.

      This doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t be worried about Ebola. I certainly am. But there’s no point in discussing the disease irrationally. It has a mortality rate of more than 50% now, but it will not have anywhere near that high a mortality rate in ten months, not if it continues to spread with an R0 of 2. This is as close to a statistical certainty as you can get in a real-world prediction.

      As for its impact on the way we lead our lives — the modern taboo against spitting in public arose during the 1918 influenza epidemic, and now seems to be a permanent social feature. Perhaps shaking hands will go the same route in 2015.

      • Equation may hold, so long as militarized version of this or similar virus (as with Marburg) are eliminated.

        • Even “militarized” viruses mutate. They, too, are subject to Darwinian mechanics, and will become less deadly at an exponential rate as they spread exponentially.

          In order to maintain lethality, new batches of artificially manufactured viruses would have to be continuously released in public areas.

      • ‘As for its impact on the way we lead our lives — the modern taboo against spitting in public arose during the 1918 influenza epidemic, and now seems to be a permanent social feature. ‘

        Spitting in public used to be rare in the UK. It is now very common again. The incidence of spitting in public has lead to a resurgence of TB (now often antibiotic resistant strains of TB). TB was virtually abolished in the UK by the 1970’s and specialist TB treatment units were closed. Now it is rampant among a population who have no idea of identifying and preventing the spread of TB.

        Why is spitting common again ? It is common amonst the followers of a new ‘cultural group’ in the UK. Muslims. It is a ‘Muslim cultural thing’ in’nit !!

  4. The claim is that there is “overwhelming selective pressure” for the virus to mutate in a way that makes it less dangerous. This is not entirely accurate. “Darwinian mechanics” don’t necessarily favor “less deadly” or something that we perceive as being beneficial to the virus (i.e. not killing the host). The pressure is for the virus to change in a way that makes it easier to reproduce. While not killing the host is one way this might be achieved, another is simply to become more infectious. Hence, the fear that Ebola might become airborne. If the disease becomes more infectious, the pressure not to kill the host is reduced dramatically, and might become a non-factor until the virus begins to run out of hosts. It you trust in a politically correct view of “Darwinian mechanics” you could end up dead.

    • Yes, I agree, you are exactly correct. However, the second alternative has not been the historical pattern. Deadly pandemics generally spread exponentially for a short period, and then their virulence rapidly declines.

      This may point to a greater selective advantage for those that spread well but are less deadly, vs. those that spread even more quickly, but are also more lethal.

      And you’re right about what will probably happen if Ebola becomes an airborne contagion: a much more rapid spread of the disease. However, I stand by my assertion that after hundreds of millions of people have become infected, the virus will be only a fraction as deadly as it is now. This has been the pattern throughout history. The most deadly period will last for a year, maybe two.

      But that’s bad enough. An awful lot of people will probably die horribly during that time.

  5. The West African countries involved have large Muslim populations who follow the Muslim custom of family members hand-washing the dead. This is suspected to be a possible disease vector. The WHO and Red Cross have tried to discourage the practice, to no avail, and some of their efforts have resulted in attacks against their workers.
    Jewish Law, or Halacha, also involves washing the dead, but Halacha also suspends ritual if it proves harmful, but I don’t know if Sharia has the same exception.

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