I’m a world class neurotic, the kind who pulls out the hand sanitizer after the sign of peace at Mass. The kind who wipes the cart handles off at the grocery store. (Let us not forget there is a reason most groceries now provide antibacterial wipes near the carts). I’m also someone whose mother got a treatment-resistant staph infection in the hospital one year and who has learned that random shiz can happen to anyone.
I wear my neuroses like a protective shield. And while I don’t live in fear, I do make what I believe are prudent choices.
So here’s the thing: I know three people who are either in Africa now or going to Africa soon. At least one is in Western Africa, where the Ebola virus is reaching crisis levels. Where it’s killing people. Where the sanitation levels and treatment possibilities are low.
The World Health Organization has now said that the spread of Ebola is now “an international crisis.” It is only the third time ever that WHO has declared an international health emergency. Because Ebola treatment is iffy. Very iffy.
Which brings me to the question of the day:
Why would anyone travel to a developing nation with substandard medical care where usually fatal Ebola cases are increasing? There is no cure nor is there broadly available or effective treatment in Africa.
I can think of several possible reasons.
1. Americans can not fathom the level of care (or shall I say no-care?) in developing nations. It doesn’t get through to us in a real way. For all our complaints about the U.S. health care system, it is head and shoulders above anything in Africa. So I think we’re in denial about what it would be like if we got a nearly always fatal illness in Africa. I know I didn’t get the situation in rural India until a fellow traveler was hit hard with a bad bug from simply drinking tea on a train–and we were a good ways from real medical treatment. She was, in fact, treated by our hotel staff. Because there were no medical facilities within easy reach.
2. We’re being told that Ebola is not an airborne virus. Not so fast: that may–or may not be true. Ebola is airborne, or very well could be, recent studies have shown, and the risk may be greater than we are being told. Yes, that’s a live link. And whether you believe that source or not, you’d have to agree that many questions remain unanswered about a virus with the track record of Ebola. Not to mention that history shows that blindly believing “officialdom” is not a great idea.
As I write this the news is that the two Americans now at Emory were not infected while caring for patients, but were inadvertently infected by someone else, yet unknown. So if they weren’t handling bodily fluids, themselves, how did they get this disease? It’s unknown. I rest my case.
3. Americans believe it won’t happen to us. Denial is not just a river in Egypt. Yes, many of us feel like the odds are against anything bad happening and that the risk is small. To that I say that it takes only one random event. We are not invincible. Do you want to be on a plane that an infected traveler had been on? Or is on? I’m sure you’d say “no.” And you would tell me that the risk is small. In return, I’d point out shopping cart sanitizers.
For me, when talking about a disease that has a more than 90% death rate, any risk is too much.
4. If we’re not traveling to Ebola Ground Zero –countries where it’s already taken root–we think the risk is low, especially since we’ve been told the disease is spread only by contact with body fluids. The risk may be lower in some African countries but at the same time, travel does spread disease. It’s a fact. And some of those bacteria spread aren’t airborne, like e-coli— have you read the studies that show that airplane tray tables are loaded with bacteria, including e-coli? How about this scenario: cough into hands and put hands on tray table. or anything else. The act of traveling puts us at risk for all sorts of stuff, especially in a place where sanitary practices vary so greatly. Have you ever felt like those tiny airplane water faucets allow a good hand wash? I didn’t think so.
Planes go hither and yon within a country. With so little known about Ebola, we can’t be sure of anything.
So, why would anyone 1) put themselves and their families at risk and 2) risk spreading a disease to their own country?
I love my friends a lot,and I respect the things they do, including world travel. But how responsible is traveling to Africa during this Ebola emergency— to themselves, their families and to the rest of us?
I know how I feel about it. How do you see it?