A fourth case of Ebola has emerged in the U.S. Dr. Craig Spencer, a physician working for Doctors Without Borders, returned to New York from Guinea on October 17th, but did not exhibit symptoms until Thursday (note: the virus has an incubation period of three weeks). Spencer is being treated at New York City’s Bellevue Hospital Center, one of the eight statewide hospitals designated by New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo to be fully equipped with an Ebola preparedness plan. As part of his treatment, Spencer has received a blood transfusion from nurse Nancy Writebol, a survivor of Ebola who shares his blood type.
Spencer is an undergraduate alumnus of Hopkins. He went to medical school at Wayne State University School of Medicine in Detroit, and received a Masters in Public Health at Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health.
Nina Pham, the first nurse to test positive for Ebola at Texas Health Presbyterian was discharged completely free of Ebola from the NIH hospital in Bethesda, MD. Pham also received a blood transfusion to treat the disease.
Amber Vinson, another nurse who worked at the same hospital as Pham, had a more advanced case of Ebola but tested negative for the disease nine days after she was admitted to Emory University Hospital for treatment. No details of her treatment have been released. She and Nina Pham cared directly for Thomas Duncan, the first Ebola patient in the US, which is most likely how they contracted the illness. They did wear protective gear recommended by the CDC while treating him.
Vinson’s and Spencer’s cases have generated fears about the spread of Ebola. The CDC cleared Vinson to board a flight from Cleveland to Dallas-Ft. Worth, despite Vinson’s report that she had a low-grade fever. Later that day, she went to the hospital with early signs of the disease. Similarly, Spencer took two international flights and three subways to return to his home in Manhattan.
These fears of spreading Ebola through airline flights and other modes of mass transportation have reached the White House. Many legislators and voters alike are urging Obama to ban air travel to and from countries in West Africa seriously affected with Ebola, such as Sierra Leone and Liberia.
“I don't think it should necessarily be left to Obama to ban air travel to Ebola infected countries. People travel to those countries for all sorts of reasons, so banned air travel could really inhibit them. Since there isn't a vaccine for Ebola, it should be up to the discretion of private airlines as to whether or not they want to serve those countries. Maybe there should be an [informational] seminar required before anyone can travel to those countries,” freshman Gillian Lelchuk said.
“Air travel should be temporarily banned to countries with a high prevalence of Ebola, only if the disease becomes ‘airborne.’ For people who traveled to these countries prior to the ban’s institution, medical follow-up and supervision should be required. Because air travel can exponentially increase the rate at which a disease spreads, this ban would help to prevent Ebola from spreading quickly. While Ebola is not yet airborne, a few mutations of the virus could enable it to become transmitted via air. In this case, sneezing or coughing in close environments (such as an airplane cabin), would lead to a rapid spread of the disease,” said freshman Aaron Bickert.
On October 17, Obama appointed Ron Klain as the United States’ Ebola czar. In other words, Klain will serve as the one individual who will delegate responsibility for and organize a federal response to any outbreak threats in the US. Appointing the czar has been the first step taken within the United States by the US government to attack Ebola. The treatment for the 9 cases treated in the US has been taken care of by the NIH and other private hospitals.
Many have criticized Klain as being inappropriate for the job because he has no formal background in public health, and therefore count his selection as czar as part of the president’s failings to mount an adequate response to Ebola. Saturday Night Live has not failed to avail themselves of this opportunity for ridicule, and this past week’s Jim Carrey- hosted episode presented a skit in which “Obama” and “Klain” are the stars of the satire.
Some students at Hopkins have a positive outlook on America’s ability as a country to handle an Ebola epidemic.
“While Ebola has no confirmed cure, medical resources and technology in America greatly increase the survival rate of Ebola patients,” Bickert said.
One company’s response to the disease has been the creation of an Ebola virus plush toy. Giantmicrobes Inc., a company based in Connecticut which creates multitudes of plush toy versions of viruses and microbes, has created three different varieties of toys to suit buyers’ fancies: a small Ebola doll for $9.95, a Gigantic one for $29.95 and an Ebola Petri Dish for $14.95. As of Oct. 26, these toys have 23 five-star reviews, and were even out of stock for a while.
Some Hopkins students, however, do not find these toys to be much fun.
“I don't really think [the toys are] appropriate because Ebola is a real problem. It's not something that should be trivialized into a child's toy that could come out of A Nightmare Before Christmas,” Lelchuk said.