Skip to main content

Ebola fears & better American science education

Whenever my kids want to play doctor with their doctor kit, I find it's a useful time to talk about the human body since we Americans have not only an ignorance but sometimes-fear of it. We cover why we get vaccines. They know about blood tests and listening to hearts and looking in ears. My daughter loved her 3-year-old checkup the other day. Not that I think either one of them will become a doctor. Unlikely. But nothing wrong with improving basic scientific knowledge as a worst-case.

And, yes, my 3 and 4 year olds know that mommies have a special organ that allows them to carry babies inside them. That probably seems wildly inappropriate to someone out there...but it's not. Why do we allow ourselves (or our kids) to be so stupid about basic biology? It has political ramifications. But, mostly, I just cringe and wish that we had a better science education system whenever I see someone ranting online about the Ebola panic.

First, a little medical...Ebola is a nasty, deadly disease that absolutely should be taken seriously. You are also terribly, infinitely unlikely to ever catch it. People live with symptomatic Ebola patients and do not become infected. It's present in bodily fluids and requires symptoms to be contagious. When someone first presents with a fever, they have very low levels of the virus in their system. It's still very difficult to catch at this point. Sorry to be so graphic if you're reading this over lunch, but it's not until the massive vomiting, bleeding, and diarrhea start that someone has enough virus to be highly contagious. Depending on the amount of virus present, a patient with Ebola on their skin can transmit the disease via skin contact (or even shared blankets). But it still requires close contact with Ebola-infected bodily fluids.

Which brings us to the politics. Many idiot governors, including my own who I just voted for, have bowed to public pressure and started mandatory quarantines for the understood incubation period--21 days--for people who have been in the vicinity of Ebola patients. The issue of travel bans, quarantines, and science have become hot button issues as a panicky American public demands action. Despite the fact that you have a greater chance of getting influenza and a greater chance of dying from it.

Which brings us to nurse Kaci Hickox who has become the either scapegoat or hero depending on your viewpoint. She returned from treating Ebola patients in Africa and now refuses to be quarantined as a matter of both scientific and Constitutional principles. As of my writing this, the governor of Maine is backing off his mandatory quarantine order in favor of mandatory blood testing. Probably because the quarantine mob is losing both the scientific and civil rights argument.

This is a teaching moment for America...not just about Ebola, but about the need for science, the need for better education, the fact that civil rights still apply even when it's uncomfortable to hear. The moral of the story is that Ebola is entirely preventable and difficult to catch. Even more, as a nation we shouldn't fall for the hysteria and moral judgments.

A nurse taking a bike ride shouldn't be a hotly contested debate about health policy.

Comments