Saturday, October 11, 2014

Ebola: should you be worried?

Just to the end of October 2014
That's the trouble with exponentials: they burble around beneath the noise floor - 1, 2, 4, 8, 16 - and then sixteen iterations later it's one million, two million, four million .. and you're overwhelmed.

Scientific American writes:
"In a worst-case scenario the CDC projected that by mid-January, Sierra Leone and Liberia alone could have up to 1.4 million cases."
Yes, mid-January .. and 1.4 million.

Dr James Thompson at UCL has been posting about this, the latest being his satirical "Ebola IQ test"
"Given a viral disease which is transmitted by contact with the contaminated bodily fluids of infected dying and dead people such that each case can lead to 2 new cases, and for which there is no known cure, though rehydration and basic nursing improve outcomes somewhat, which of the following is the best strategy to save the most lives?

"In each case, chose either A or B."

(continue reading)
The NHS could presumably handle what eluded the Spanish, the prompt isolation of a carrier followed by quarantine of all contacts. But this is highly labour-intensive (dozens of at-risk contacts); it's hard to see it working if we had a hundred belatedly-identified carriers. The UK, along with the rest of Western Europe, is densely populated and highly-interconnected by busy transport links. City-wide or regional quarantine would be difficult in the extreme, even if the political will could be found for the necessary military enforcement

If the Ebola exponential wildfire sweeps across Sub-Saharan African early next year, then the UK isn't just subject to the  threat of incoming air flights. Most likely the virus will burst out to the more adjacent Middle-Eastern or North African regions, and thence into Europe by a thousand routes.

At the moment, due to West African poverty and lack of development, the virus is moving slowly. Incursions into Europe have mostly been self-inflicted through the repatriation of infected health workers. However, if incursions become more organic and massive then all those complacent "We're protected," bets are off.

Time for that trip to town, to stock up on soups, bottled water and Campingaz cartridges. A shotgun would be handy too as you hunker down.