Friday, October 17, 2014
Ebola is Serious Business 3: But it Would Make a Crappy Bioweapon
See, a bacterium is generally anaerobic and you can keep it on hand, maybe distribute it in a targeted way. But let's say a terrorist had got hold of ebola the old-fashioned way--he caught it from someone. Since the incubation period is up to 21 days, he doesn't even know he's infectious until he has a fever and puts 2 and 2 together. Then he tries to travel. Let's say he's in a country known to have an ebola outbreak, and they are monitoring people for fevers--no trouble there: aspirin reduces fevers. So he takes a bunch of aspirin and an anti-emetic, and boards a flight to Europe.
Why Europe? Because most Ebola-stricken countries already don't have direct flights to the US. So he goes to Europe, and hopes he kind of stays asymptomatic-looking enough to get to the US to totes fug with people. Maybe he manages it. But since he was already febrile when he put 2 and 2 together...the clock is seriously ticking.
So he gets off at, let's say, Philadelphia International, and he wants to really spread his ebola all over the place. His options are limited because the virus travels by body fluids. It doesn't really survive outside the body for more than hours at best, and many public places do get regularly cleaned with chlorine or ammonia-based disinfectants. His best bet might be to get a job right away in food service. Then introduce body fluids into foods (whilst staying apparently asymptomatic). Post-cooking, naturally. I say your man can't get a fast food job that quick, but whevs. (Typhoid Mary is probably your best example of a probable food service worker who caused major unintended shenanigans as a disease vector--but keep in mind that typhus is a bacterial infection. It can spread by food and water, and ebola hasn't been shown to.)
So he does that for a hot minute and then is so symptomatic no one doesn't know he has something.
Here's where some of the US's susceptibility to biowarfare is baked into our economic cake. We don't generally have paid time off for food service workers, and the uninsured don't get the world's best treatment. So I can easily see a sick person handling food even if they are pretty damn ill. And maybe their co-workers continue working feeling mighty not-good, themselves. How long, though, before the epidemiologists track the problem back to the place where kind of sick-looking undocumented off the plane guys flip burgers?
It wouldn't take that long given how long it takes for the virus to kill a person. So dead guy with ebola kind of suggests that the place he works is a disease vector, please, if you ate there, report for quarantine.
Now, this is where the stupid starts. We don't have a reliable mandatory quarantine in place for potentially infected people. That the second nurse infected by working with Duncan actually boarded a plane and was totally cleared by the CDC astounds me, as does the information that until Duncan's test for ebola came back positive, they were treating him as if he did not have it, instead of erring on the side of caution.
That is absurdly stupid. Let's pretend hospitals right now won't do that.
I say, still and all, with the right coordination, possibly infected people can be identified and quarantined--but this can't be voluntary. Yes--asymptomatic people most likely don't spread the disease, but who says when a person is actually symptomatic? It is best to just not play games, like pretending some arbitrary temperature means one is infectious, when people do take Tylenol or aspirin and others just have a low body temp to begin with. We need people to act with a more-informed perspective.
But people who have thus far done no more research into ebola than I ever did when I was just researching for a fanfic?
I don't trust those people.