WASHINGTON – Thomas Eric Duncan flew into Dallas, Texas from Liberia, via Brussels and Washington. After a couple of days, he got sick with symptoms that may be associated with the Ebola virus (fever, vomiting) and went to a hospital in Dallas.
First major lapse
Amazingly, the medical staff there failed to note that he had just come from Liberia. And so, lacking this critical piece of information, the doctors who looked at him thought that he had flu-like symptoms, and sent him back home.
This is shocking. This incredible lapse came several weeks after America had been alerted by the top medical authorities about taking maximum precautions when dealing with anybody who could potentially be an Ebola virus carrier.
US Army in Liberia
The President of the United States announced weeks ago that the Ebola epidemic in West Africa is so serious that he put the Pentagon, via its Africa Command, in charge of a massive medical emergency operation aimed at strengthening the extremely weak health facilities in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea.
President Obama noted clearly that we need to do all we can to contain this pandemic at its source, otherwise it will get here to America.
Furthermore, all TV news programs reported in detail the extreme precautions related to the treatment of American health professionals brought back to the US to be cured, after they had contracted Ebola while working in Africa.
And yet, when Mr. Duncan arrived at the hospital in Dallas, with a high fever and a stomach ache, the doctors and nurses failed to note that he had just arrived from Liberia and sent him home, even though he had symptoms clearly associated with Ebola.
Contaminated clothing, bed sheets not removed from the apartment
But wait. Sadly there is more. After Mr. Duncan was finally diagnosed with the Ebola virus, the Texas health authority failed to remove from the home of his girlfriend where he had stayed after his arrival in Texas all his personal items, including the bed sheets and towels he had used after he got sick.
Elementary safety measures not applied
Let me put this in context. After Mr. Duncan officially became the very first Ebola case ever in the history of the United States, with all news outlets covering this, the Atlanta-based United States Center for Disease Control told all of us reassuringly something like: “Not to worry. We are on top of this. We are all seasoned professionals. We shall make sure that this single case will not lead to any future ones, because we shall quarantine everything and everybody who had any contact with the Ebola patient”.
Well, guess what. The Texas health authorities did not do any of that. Any doctor knows that all items that may have been in contact with the sick person’s “fluids” are contaminated, and therefore sources of contamination for anybody else who may touch them. Therefore, you immediately remove everything touched or used by the sick patient. You safely dispose of all these items according to precise protocols. You disinfect the home, the furniture, and whatever.
Well, the Texas authorities had to be notified by the news media of this lapse. And now they are finally doing what should have been done days ago.
People still fly out of Liberia
More broadly, the global picture reveals even more bizarre facts. Now we know that Mr. Duncan, while in Liberia, was in close contact with a sick woman, who most likely had contracted Ebola. While he had no symptoms when he boarded his flight from Monrovia to Brussels, (he later on flew from Brussels to Washington and from there to Dallas), upon entering the U.S., Mr. Duncan failed to mention this contact with the sick woman –a critical piece of information that should have triggered all sorts of alarms.
Whatever else may be said, I find it absolutely insane that we still have regular flights from Liberia and or other countries where the epidemic is out of control. Are we totally mad? Do we need more cases like Mr. Duncan’s?
In case anybody forgot, there is no readily available cure for Ebola. There are some experimental therapies. But that’s about it. You catch it, and most likely you die.
We have no real prevention system
So, let’s put all this together. Potentially sick people still travel freely out of countries where there is an Ebola pandemic. When one of them, Mr. Duncan, gets to a hospital in Texas with Ebola-like symptoms, they fail to notice that he just came from Liberia and do not check him for Ebola.
And then, several days after he has been officially diagnosed, all his contaminated personal items are still in the apartment where he stayed while sick, because somehow the Texas health authorities forgot to remove them.
God help us
So, there you have it. We have a lack of elementary international precautions –such as stopping all flights from countries where Ebola is out of control; while supposedly super qualified U.S. health professionals who forget to apply the most elementary safety protocols –all of this several weeks after the entire American health care system has been placed on high alert for possible Ebola cases.
If this is the best we can do, God help us.