Friday, 3 October 2014

08:18 – I got email yesterday from a reader concerned about the Ebola situation in Dallas who asked if I thought it was time yet to panic. I replied that I am neither a virologist nor an epidemiologist, but as an educated layman I certainly thought it was a matter that should be of grave concern. The authorities, at least in their public statements, appear to be making some dangerous assumptions and are failing to take steps that I consider prudent, not least failing to quarantine people who have been or may have been exposed to the virus.

The current Ebola outbreak is different from earlier ones in at least three critical respects:

First, the number of people who have been infected and the number who have died is already higher in this outbreak than in all other outbreaks combined, and there’s no evidence that this outbreak is anything close to being under control or even that it’s certain that it CAN be brought under control. Doctors without Borders have said that with an all-out effort by the world’s governments, it may be possible to bring the outbreak under control within nine months to a year. MAY be possible, with an all-out effort. Which there’s no sign is happening.

Second, the pattern of this outbreak differs from earlier outbreaks, which were limited largely to remote rural areas and limited only to people who had had close direct contact with infected people. This outbreak has already reached the cities, and we’re now seeing the disease pop up in spots remote from the main affected areas. That suggests to me that the virus may now be air-transmissible. If so, that’s catastrophic.

Third, the virus has mutated. It’s now clear that we’re dealing with a different variant of Ebola than the variants that caused earlier outbreaks. That means it’s dangerous to assume anything about the characteristics of this new variant. Assuming that a 21-day quarantine is adequate is a dangerous assumption. This variant may have longer latency. Nor is it safe to assume that people infected with this variant are not contagious until they begin to show symptoms.

The world has not experienced a pandemic for nearly 100 years, since the Spanish flu of 1918, which had a mortality rate of “only” about 5%. The current Ebola epidemic in West Africa–with its 70%+ mortality–probably won’t become the next worldwide pandemic, but it’s certainly possible that it will. What really concerns me is that the national health authorities in the US and elsewhere do not appear to be treating this threat with the gravity that it merits. Airliners are still arriving in and departing from the affected countries every day. People known to have been exposed to Ebola were allowed to wander around unsupervised. We’re even continuing to bring patients known to be infected with Ebola to the US for treatment. This has to stop.


10:31 – I drink tea and coffee only during cool/cold weather. I just fired up the Krups for the first time this season. I’m running a pot of plain water through it first to clean it out a bit. Once that finishes, I’ll make a pot of Earl Grey.

Cooler weather has definitely arrived in Winston-Salem. Our highs over the weekend are forecast to be around 60F (16C), with lows around 40F (5C).


14:39 – Don, our UPS guy, just showed up with the ammunition I ordered from Cabela’s. I walked out to the truck as he was loading the boxes onto his cart. As he greeted me, he asked what I thought of this Ebola situation, so we chatted about that as he loaded the cart.

He knew it was ammunition because the boxes were labeled as Cabela’s and each contained the hazard label used for ammunition. He asked as he was loading the boxes if I was preparing for a zombie apocalypse or an Ebola apocalypse. Both, I told him. He volunteered that he was also a prepper and had been for years.

On National Geo’s Doomsday Preppers series, they frequently comment that there are three million preppers in the US. Depending on how one defines prepper, that may even be true. I could be convinced that there are three million very serious preppers in the US, of the type featured in that series. But in a larger sense, there are a whole lot more preppers.

When my grandmother was young, from the late 19th century through the 1920’s, nearly everyone was a prepper. They didn’t use the word, but everyone from farm families to working-class families who lived in apartments to bank presidents who lived in mansions prepped. Homes then had large pantries, which were invariably kept full of dry staples and commercial- and home-canned goods, and even those who had electric power kept candles, oil lamps, and other emergency lighting supplies.

Nowadays, fewer families keep months’ worth of stored food, although it’s still much more common than you might think. And it’s not just members of the LDS Church. The fact that both Costco and Sam’s Club carry a wide variety of freeze-dried and other storable foods and often feature them in their flyers and on their websites should tell you something. Neither of these retailers wastes effort or space on items that don’t sell well. That they carry them let alone feature them frequently means that prepping is a very popular activity.

The preppers featured on National Geo are on the right end of the Bell curve, but there are tens of millions of people who fall elsewhere on the curve. Anyone who owns a generator or even keeps spare batteries for their flashlights in case of power failure is prepping, as is someone who keeps extra blankets and some firewood on hand in case of a severe winter storm. People who live in hurricane-prone areas and store pre-cut plywood sheets to cover their windows are prepping. It’s merely a matter of degree.