Quick! Call the Plague Doctor!

Dr. Schnabel, the plague doctor, Rome 1656

Remember all those alarming articles predicting “a million Ebola deaths by Christmas”?

Late last summer and into the fall there were a lot of stories like that. Ebola was coming, and Americans were unprepared.

After the first case of Ebola in this country, the number of scare stories increased dramatically. They told us that by early next year (that is, 2015) West Africa would be a wasteland. Thousands upon thousands of Americans would be ill with Ebola, and a large number of those would die. Our health care system would be overwhelmed with Ebola cases. There wouldn’t be enough coffins to bury all of the victims. Undertakers would be unable to cope with the workload.

And so on and so forth.

Ebola doesn’t make many headlines these days. The sight of all those thousands of bodies in the streets has become so commonplace that nobody really notices them anymore. I suppose people just wear their masks and step over the corpses on their way to work, without even thinking about it.

When the following news story came out two days ago, it didn’t attract much attention:

Death Toll From West Africa’s Ebola Outbreak Passes 10,000: WHO

(Reuters) – The death toll from West Africa’s Ebola outbreak has passed 10,000, according to the latest tally released by the World Health Organization on Thursday.

Liberia has recorded the most deaths with 4,162. Sierra Leone is the second worst-hit nation with 3,655, and Guinea has recorded 2,187 dead, according to the data.

The deadly hemorrhagic fever reached Senegal, Nigeria and Mali but was contained there. A handful of cases have also been recorded in the United States, Spain and Britain.

A handful? What are they talking about? There were a MILLION dead by Christmas! That was almost three months ago, and the number of cases was doubling every three weeks, so that means… let’s see… let’s see… hang on… TWELVE MILLION people have now died of Ebola!!

The World Health Organization must be lying to us. No other explanation is possible.

And every day DHS agents are loading all the corpses onto trucks, hauling them to secret landfills, and bulldozing them over in the dead of night. And… and… and…

[The Baron’s eyes roll up in his head and he froths at the mouth before he passes out — but not from Ebola.]

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All this sarcasm is not meant to downplay the seriousness of the latest Ebola outbreak. After all, ten thousand people have died from it, and that’s a substantial number.

But that’s not what this post is about.

The point of this post is to draw attention to the foolish, irresponsible scaremongering about Ebola that continued for several months last fall. Apocalyptic headlines were the order of the day. All the news was alarming. Millions upon millions of Americans were going to die by the end of 2015.

It was a form of mass hysteria. And, like other outbreaks of mass hysteria, after it passed, everyone forgot about it. Six months later, it’s as if it didn’t happen. Down the memory hole!

And it wasn’t just the mass media that fed the flames of hysteria. A number of otherwise reputable blogs and websites joined the chorus. They featured alarming Ebola headlines all day every day, for weeks.

I’m not going to mention any names, because I don’t want to start any food fights with people whom I otherwise hold in great respect. But everybody who retailed those hysterical predictions back then ought to publicly acknowledge their mistake.

They should have known better.

Take a deep breath, calm down, and read up on the history of epidemics. Look up the evolutionary biology of mass viral infections. Pandemics don’t continue indefinitely in a geometric progression, and this Ebola outbreak was no exception.

Back in October I swam against the tide of Ebola hysteria and wrote about pandemics, looking at the 1918 influenza epidemic to get an idea of what we might expect to happen. But even my non-alarmist predictions were more pessimistic than what eventually happened. Ebola was unpleasant, and killed thousands of people in West Africa. But it had almost no effect anywhere else, and was hardly apocalyptic.

I learned my lesson about making apocalyptic predictions after what happened back in 2008 and 2009, when I joined in the world-is-ending hysteria over the financial crisis. Hyperinflation didn’t happen in 2009. It hasn’t happened yet. It may well come someday, but everyone — myself included — who joined in the hysteria back then was WRONG.

And so was everyone who made the apocalyptic forecasts about Ebola.

Man up, guys. Admit you goofed. Learn from the experience.

You’ll be better prepared for the next crisis if you do.

11 thoughts on “Quick! Call the Plague Doctor!

  1. Remember all the scare mongering over AIDs by the Leftwing media and Hollywood?

    Ebola and most hemorrhagic fevers aren’t a threat given the small window when it’s communicable. Now if they were as easy to get as Measles it would be a different story. USAMRIID has a good section on them in their hand book – Medical Management of Biological casualties.


    • OK. This one I *will* respond to. I lived in the San Francisco region when AIDS was first diagnosed/discovered in the early 1980s. Gay male “party culture” and just regular gay guys who were faithful to their partners were slammed, and quite terribly, by this disease.

      As with Ebola, there was NO treatment. Once you were diagnosed, that was it: weeks, maybe (just a few) months were left. Get your records in order, that’s it. I’m a straight woman who did not live *in* S.F., and I lost about a dozen friends in the music and art community from 1981 through about 1992. That’s very low.

      Some male friends of mine lost upwards of 50 of their associates–personal friends, members of chorus, members of instrumental ensembles, know at sight gym members, neighbors. Almost that entire urban generation of men who were in their 20s and 30s during the 1980s, who would be mentoring younger musicians and artists *right now* are dead.

      The virus *finally* seemed to mutate, about the time a few tentative treatments were tested. But the 10 to 15 years of laying waste en masse to men’s–and, later, women’s–lives were indeed like The Plague Years.

      It may be that this variety of Ebola is mutating; it may be that Ebola has killed the most susceptible 60 to 70% of the available population and that the remainder are now practicing non-contagious funeral customs. I hope so. They have suffered in approx. one year what we suffered for twelve, albeit at a vastly increased scope.

      “Scare mongering over [AIDS]”? Please show some respect to, at least, my dead.

      Thank you.

      • Seconded, Cynthia; my circle here in London may be smaller than yours, but I lost a couple of acquaintances and a friend, all gay men, in the same period.

      • Cynthia,

        I do not disrespect your loss, and I doubt that any at the GoV community would seek to meaninglessly offend you or your colleagues and friends. Nonetheless, the means of transmission of AIDS/HIV are well understood, and the at-risk-behaviours well documented. Equally there is a clear evolution of social behaviours that have affected infection rates and prevalence of the condition, and minimal evidence for any genetic shift in virus.

        • The methods of transmission are well understood *now* and have been since maybe (pulling a number out of the air) 1989, give or take. But before the method of transmission was known (blood to blood or, less strictly, body fluid exchange via needles or unprotected sexual relations), the panic was absolutely palpable.

          Caregivers, even from the Shanti Project, were hesitant to touch their patients. Was AIDS, perhaps, transmitted by touch (as Ebola is)?

          Others were afraid even to go into a room where an AIDS patient lay on a bed. Was AIDS, perhaps, transmitted by aerosols (as pneumonia, flu, and other diseases can be)?

          It was only after women and 100% straight men began to be diagnosed *and* absolutely complete–but confidential–medical behavior histories were taken that the transmission methods became understood.

          At this point, I agree with you. But then, no. We were like uneducated African villagers: no knowledge and no understandable way to cope except through panic and/or instinct.

        • I’m sorry; I meant to thank you for your statement of support. My response was meant to clarify *when* the transmission methods became understood.

          And I do thank you.

      • The scare-mongering about AIDS went above and beyond the realities of the men, women and children who died from this communicable disease that could be caught one of four ways: sexual congress with someone who had the disease; receiving transfusions of blood from the infected; transmission as a baby came down an infected birth canal; and drugs injected with needles carrying the disease.

        I remember an acquaintance who came home from a lecture in the 1990s in which a “respected” epidemiologist claimed that ALL children were at risk of illness and death once they became sexually active. By the end of the lecture, the medical professionals in his audience had bought his harum-scarum theories. No mention was made of its method of spread, or the differences in social behaviors of those contracting the disease, or the higher likelihood of being at risk via IV drug use, or the estimates of risk based on gender, etc.

        The lecturer just wanted his audience to push for more funding for his clinic and research so he painted everything in colors of panic and desolation.

        My customer was an intelligent woman but she was totally in the leftist bubble. By that I mean she’d spent a large part of her adult life lurching from one Henny-Penny-the-sky-is-falling apocalyptic disaster to the next. Her current fear then was the death via AIDS of her kids unless they remained totally celibate for the rest of their lives.

        When someone is accustomed to living with lurking catastrophe, I’ve noticed they have a very short memory span once the coming catastrophe moves on…but they’re primed for the next scare as though the previous one had never existed. It was and is a strange mind-wipe phenomenon.

        We don’t live in an area with a large gay population, but I did know several families who lost their grown sons via AIDS. The “kids” had moved to urban areas and engaged in high-risk behaviors they couldn’t have done here because there was little to no opportunity. You’d have to go to the big city to find those hundreds of sexual partners and that easier access to drugs. Such reckless behavior was a health menace, but the risk was mostly confined to the practitioners and to their social group. That doesn’t mean all those deaths weren’t grievously sad; they certainly were. But they didn’t arise in a vacuum.

        Behavior has consequences. Part of the downside of the sexual revolution was learning some of those consequences. And some innocents were hurt, too. Children who were born with AIDS, wives who contracted AIDS from their bi-sexual husbands, hemophiliacs (and others) who got AIDS thru blood transfusions, etc.

        One of the most depressed young teenagers I ever worked with was a girl of 16 who’d moved back to the country because she was an orphan. Both parents had been IV drug users who’d died of AIDS. As a result, this angry young city girl was forced by utter loss to live in the country. She viewed her situation in the darkest terms. I was finally able to find TWO young women – siblings- who were willing to serve as her Big Sisters while she was in high school and until she moved on to college. They really did perform a rescue operation and brought her out of what might have been a suicidal spiral. Her situation was complicated by the fact that her grandmother, with whom she lived, was angrily grieving the death of her own daughter and blamed the girl’s father. What a mess.

        AIDS is a horror. Those who lived mindlessly paid the price, but so did others caught in the crossfire. STDs in general are increasing at an exponential rate among the young. They been indoctrinated with an “I gotta be ME” attitude without being taught any counter-balancing responsibility, a mindset which would permit them to view possible consequences for their behaviors.

        According to an epidemiological report I read the other day, there is a high rate of increase of STDs among seniors, especially men. I don’t know if this is old behaviors from their hippie days catching up at long last, or if they’ve remained hedonists down the years…

        Among the young, STDs are part-and-parcel of the hook-up culture. And there are so many more to choose from now: there used to be the unholy three diseases but last time I checked, there is now a menu of about 25 or so infections to choose from. Which explains the increase in ectopic pregnancies, i.e., the scarring of Fallopian tubes from bouts with STDs. Mother Nature can be punitive if you step too far outta line.

        Daniel Moynihan warned us back in the 60s that a turn toward socialist rewards for the populace at large would entail a “deviation downwards” toward more hedonistic behavior for everyone…I kept hoping he’d be proved wrong. Sigh.

  2. I am still suffering from the acid rain burns, from skin cancer from the ozone hole, frostbite from global cooling, sunburn from global warming and stomach pains from all the alarmist Kool-Aid so haven’t had time to catch Ebola. Maybe next year …

  3. En Passant, your name should be Bien Pessant (sp?), ie — good thinker — that was funny.

    Baron and Dymphna, you have reassured me and I appreciate it. I don’t worry about myself much, although I would like to live what life is given to me in peace but it does seem that “somebody” want to keep us riled up, worried, fearful, and you have to wonder why.

    So it’s back to cui bono, isn’t it? Please write something about this — I would love to learn who in the hell is getting something out of all this. and I hate to quote that dumb guy in California, but I will: “can’t we just all get along?” Well, no — not unless we agree on a common ground of morality and that is where I see the problem, but I would love to be educated on this topic.

    Thank you.

  4. Posted on August 19, 2014 by Baron Bodissey
    “The game-changer is Ebola, which will probably arrive in Mecca in October along with the Hajj, to be dispersed thence all over the world. After that, all bets are off.” -> this was also too pessimistic and gloomy, if you ask me.

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