Saturday, October 18, 2014

The CDC: Another Throw-Away Institution?

The virus was first named in 1976, thus some six years before the earliest Internet protocol came to be introduced in 1982 and before the phenomenon we now call Cable TV was fully introduced; that happened in the 1980s. Therefore we had neither cable news channels churning 24/7, nor social media, nor yet a political culture prone to mega-hysteria. Nor were we likely to give everything new the e-this or e-that designation; else, surely, Ebola, named after a river in the Congo, would soon have been transmuted into the E-Plague.

Since then, all told, 35 observations of the virus have been recorded in the 39-year period 1976-2014. Before this year, three of those observations had been made in the United States: in 1989, 1990, and in 1996. In 1990 four people developed anti-bodies to the disease in the U.S., but they did not get infected; in the other years, no humans were touched at all. And nobody died in the United States. The observations were traced to monkeys, imported from the Philipines for medical research.

Across the globe, the 35 Ebola introductions produced deaths in 30 years of the 1976-2014. Some nine observed appearances of the virus produced no deaths. Death tolls reported ranged from 1 to 431 before the 2014 outbreak, the high number in 1976. These data are reported by the CDC (link).

The 2014 Ebola outbreak is the most severe ever—and this time the plague has claimed one life on U.S. soil, that of a Liberian, in Dallas; and several Americans have been infected and are under treatment in U.S. facilities. Not surprisingly, therefore—in this age of total communications—the Hysteria is ON. The politicians are frantic in their attempt at looking active—as if doing something is the only proper answer to any crisis, whether you’re qualified to do something or not.

Alas, the political response has come to focus on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and—as I heard one politico say, at the recent “hearing” on the subject—the action, the doing, will consist in holding CDC’s feet to the fire.

The media eat this subject up like hungry vultures—in endless news stories, interviews with folk who know nothing more than I do, and in outraged op-ed pieces. The result is that yet another institution worthy of respect and admiration is being thrown to the wolves, the CDC itself. It is supposedly incompetent. The only competents among us, seemingly, are those who hold other people’s feet to the fire. I might liken them to a species of monkey that carries the virus but, fortunately?, is itself immune to the disease.

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