Is It Possible to Catch Ebola From the Media?

flying cadeuciiThat pesky Ebola bug is not done with us yet.

Apparently not satisfied with inflicting havoc in Texas for two weeks and causing a major panic, the publicity-hungry Ebola virus set its sights on the media capital of the world on Thursday.

The latest Ebola case is a New York City Doctor. A specialist in international medicine at New York Presbyterian Hospital, Dr. Craig Spencer had been working with Ebola patients for the French relief agency Doctors Without Borders.

New York City health officials are conducting contact tracing to find people who may have had contact with Dr. Spencer.

The bad news?

New York City being New York City,  Spencer took the the subway from his apartment on West 143th street in Harlem to a Brooklyn bowling alley the night before his fever spiked.  That’s led to speculation that he may have inadvertently exposed a lot of people. Public health health officials are now tracing Spencer’s contacts to find potential “high risk” cases.

Our talking points:

Is It Possible to Catch Ebola on the Subway? 

No. Yes. Maybe.

Unfortunately,  in reality we don’t know, although we’re pretty sure we do.  Current CDC guidelines are based on the assumption that Ebola only becomes contagious when symptoms present and the patient enters the high fever stage.

Via Controversies at Hospital Infection Prevention:

Those at risk for Ebola are healthcare workers who have cared for Ebola patients (whether here or in West Africa). Not mall-goers, bowlers, subway riders, or those who might have been in an airport terminal on the same day as an asymptomatic Ebola patient. The greatest transmission risk is borne by those who provide direct care for Ebola patients during severe illness, when viral shedding is very high.

There’s a lot of evidence to support this argument. There have been cases of symptomatic Ebola patients traveling by airplane, bus and other modes of transportation without spreading the disease.  That’s somewhat reassuring.

On the other hand, it is not exactly compelling statistical evidence of anything other than that some people travelled with an Ebola patient and did not develop Ebola.

We need to work with  much larger numbers before we know for sure.  The good news?

Now that Ebola has arrived in a city of eight million people, we’re now going to have them.

Is it Possible to Catch Ebola from a Bowling Ball?  

It has come to this, has it?

Expect Nate Silver and the guys at fivethirtyeight.com to helpfully do a three thousand word quantitative analysis on the probability of catching Ebola from a bowling ball. The truth may be that it is possible to catch Ebola from a bowling ball if you lick it or exchange bodily fluids with it, as several clever wags have helpfully pointed out.

Suffice to say the odds are low.

Is It Possible to Catch Ebola from the Media?


At this point, the greatest danger of transmission may be from the news media. The World Health Organization has documented cases where people have developed Ebola-like symptoms, a sort of “reverse placebo” effect after prolonged exposure to media coverage after the epidemic.  There have been numerous cases of people developing headache, nausea, vomiting and other symptoms that suggest to the sufferer that death is imminent.

The only known cure?  Doctors Without Borders Recommends a strict 21-day media quarantine. Turn off your television set. Take a walk. Write the Great American Novel. Do something else. Do anything else.

Travel Ban: Expect the Spencer case to lead to further public calls for a ban on flights from Africa.

Also likely to be challenged:  the fundamental assumptions behind the new guidelines.  That’s not really fair.  Had Spencer been required to follow the new self-monitoring guidelines released by the CDC on Tuesday, the case would probably have been caught when Spencer reported that he was feeling unwell on Tuesday and Wednesday.

Are we doing enough to protect people? Again, we’re about to find out.

The issue of how Spencer contacted the disease in the first place is likely to be a major focus.  In Guinea, the physician worked closely with Ebola patients using infection control procedures developed by Doctors without Borders. It just so happens that these are the very same guidelines health care workers will be relying on in the fight against Ebola from now on.  Expect more debate and understandable fear about as healthcare workers question that enough is being done to protect them.

We’ll learn more Spencer’s story plays out and we see how effective the measures are as doctors, nurses and other healthcare workers handle his case. The reality?  No system is likely to be 100% effective.

John Irvine is the executive editor of THCB.

30 replies »

  1. Indeed sometimes news media are exagerating, I think Obama administration is doing what is possible to work about this problem and fix it.

  2. It has been 5 days since I posted a blurb from Judicial watch. The words coming from Peter1 and Bobby were intended to demean and not to assess whether or not what Judicial Watch said was true or could be true. One called Larry Klayman a joke even though he hasn’t been involved with JW for well over a decade and called JW an “Equal Opportunity Hyperdelusionalistas outfit”. The other didn’t have the slightest idea of what JW did (it is a 501C3). Another comment from these guys was ROTFL. I have news for both. Hyenas can ROTFL but they have little intellect and they don’t read.

    I haven’t heard anything from either of them though there has been other news on the subject for a couple of days. Perhaps it was not seen by those that only check the Left Wing Daily.

    “State Department plans to bring foreign Ebola patients to U.S.” __Washington Times

  3. Judging from Michael Chertoff’s crisis assessment we should quarantine all gun owners until we can judge them not to be a threat.

  4. Addendum:

    “Where is the “crisis”, other than the media and Republicans”

    Need I remind you that Michael Chertoff was head of Homeland Security under both Democratic and Republican leadership. He has credentials that are bi-partisan. I assume you know what that word means.

    Though when Clinton came to office other US attorney generals were removed from their positions, he remained.

  5. “Where is the “crisis”, other than the media…”

    That is one point. The media crisis along with a lot of public opinion was created by indecisiveness and a lot of stupidity. Normally the media is in general supportive of Obama. indecisiveness is Obama’s platform when it comes to protecting the American public. You like that type of inaction which based upon the reading your posts is understandable.

    The bullet violence: Should the police go into poor neighborhoods where there is a lot of gun violence and without a search warrant remove all the guns that aren’t legally registered? Those guns kill a lot of people.

    Should we incarcerate anyone that has a psychiatric disorder that has been tied to most mass gun murders?

    Should we take away the guns from policemen because they contain bullets?

    Does your entire knowledge of the world around you revolve around soundbites?

  6. “The essence of effective public crisis management is bold and aggressive action ”

    Where is the “crisis”, other than the media and Republicans hoping to gain Nov 4th.?

    “steps urgently needed.”

    Maybe he’ll tell us the steps “urgently needed” to stem the bullet violence?

  7. http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/the-case-for-suspending-us-visas-in-ebola-affected-countries/2014/10/26/f1d55fb4-5bba-11e4-b812-38518ae74c67_story.html

    Michael Chertoff Former head of Homeland Security 2005-2009

    “Unlike in a global pandemic, it is possible to reduce the risk of Ebola importation by suspending all but essential travel to the United States from just those three nations.”

    “Contrary to administration warnings, this does not mean impeding the travel of essential medical personnel to the region to help stamp out the epidemic at its source.”

    “Equally misguided is the contention by Thomas Frieden, head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention… Whether a Liberian flies to Europe or drives across Africa to an airport in an unaffected country, he or she would still have to present a Liberian passport to board a plane to the United States.”

    “health officials, of all people, should not argue that protective measures are unwarranted unless they are 100 percent effective. “

    “The essence of effective public crisis management is bold and aggressive action demonstrating that leaders are in control of events, not reacting in a halting and belated fashion. Targeted visa suspension is one of several steps urgently needed.”

  8. Much of your rhetoric is of the moveon.org nature. Many of your facts are inaccurate as has been well demonstrated by many folk on this blog. When you find a fact of mine that is inaccurate tell me and if you are right I will thank you for correcting me.

    Was Judicial Watch delusional about the IRS, Fast and Furious, etc. No! They utilize FOIA material and post them. Did you see the lost Lois Lerner letters? They post their findings and are quite transparent. Go to their blog site for you will find some things there to your liking. Since they rely upon factual postings and judicial proceedings those things are pretty hard to make up.

    By the way you do realize that it was Hillary Clinton’s campaign that started the birther movement? All Mr. Transparency had to do was to immediately provide proof he was born in Hawaii. That was easy enough for him to do.

  9. You have zero credibility (which is probably why you post untraceably).

    Judicial Watch, to be sure, is an Equal Opportunity Hyperdelusionalistas outfit.

    And, I never read MoveOn.org stuff (hell, being inadequately “liberal/progressive,” I’m even persona non grata at FireDogLake). But it now appears to be a safe bet that your bookmarks are full of WND, NewsMax, Fox, Breitbart, Michael Savage, Rush, and Town Hall, etc.

    Are you related to Orly Taitz?

    President #Obola will take it from here. Be Very Afraid.

  10. Bobby, Maybe you don’t know anymore than Peter1. OK. I’ll buy that. Judicial Watch went after George W. Bush as well on numerous occasions even teaming up with the Sierra Club. Klayman has been out of Judicial Watch for over a decade. Klayman has nothing to do with Judicial Watch and even resorted to suing Tom Fitton and Judicial Watch, but had his claims dismissed.

    Maybe you ought to start reading more than Moveon.org.

    Of course maybe you are saying that one who includes Judicial Watch in his reading material is a smart fellow. If so forget the above.

  11. Bobby to a lesser extent my comment to Peter applies to you though at times some of your statements have interest whether or not one agrees with you.

  12. The problem with what you say Peter1 is that you forget or more likely don’t know that Judicial Watch did the same thing to George W. Bush.

    Judicial watch is conservative in that it is fiscally responsible and demands transparency and integrity. There is nothing wrong with that unless one likes to use the IRS against one’s enemies.

    As an example Judicial Watch even teamed up with the left wing Sierra Club to get Cheney’s records on his energy task force. The difference between Obama and earlier Presidents is that he has been less transparent and has lacked integrity with regard to domestic issues.

    I wouldn’t expect you to know otherwise because you are so knee jerk responsive to leftist claims and perhaps your belief that transparency is necessary exists only when the other guy is in power.

    You don’t even know that Larry Klayman the founder of Judicial Watch is gone from Judicial Watch that is now run by Tom Fitton for over a decade. (You are so behind the times.) Klayman has no power and even has resorted to suing Judicial Watch along with Tom Fitton. I am confident that Judicial Watch will continue to seek and push for integrity and transparency in the next administration as well no matter which party wins. That is the type of thing I support which seems to be a major difference between the two of us.

    My advice: You really ought to know what you are talking about before making statements that demonstrate such an extreme inadequacy to put it mildly. This seems to be a problem in a lot of your discussions.

  13. Say what you guys wish, but we have seen over and over again your type of comments followed by a new set of arguments when the FOIA requests demonstrate that what Judicial Watch thought might be true mostly was.

    This goes for our border problems, Fast and Furious, the IRS scandal and whole host of other issues. So laugh like hyenas if you wish, but look at the previous results and look at the results in the future.

    Just because news doesn’t suit your ideologies doesn’t mean that the news is wrong. It more likely means your ideology misleads you.

    They have not proven their case on this subject though they did on the other subjects, nor did they say this was definitely true. They research their material, use the FOIA to obtain their data and then like you saw with Lois Lerner they reproduce the FOIA documents sometimes after a long period of time because this administration is NOT transparent and does everything in its power to obstruct the release of documents that the American people have a right to see.

    I have listened to some of your comments on this issue and they are more ideologically based than factual. Time will tell if this item proves to be true like so many of the others. Right now they are in the investigative stage so nothing is certain. We understand how the left debates. Demean the adversary instead of intelligent discussion.

  14. To answer your question, nope, but flawed and defective EHRs lead to excess errors, including missing Ebola dx.

  15. “Judicial Watch? Seriously?”

    My thought as well. Web site says “Non Partisan”, but description says “conservative” – oxymoron. Is the NAACP “non-partisan”?

    Yes, Obama wants to secretly infect everyone in U.S. with Ebola, but only those who don’t vote Democratic. I’ve ordered the antidote from the DNC.

  16. Judicial Watch? Seriously? Larry Klayman, the “Obama, Don’t Make Us Come Into The White house And Forcibly Arrest You, Come Out With Your Hands Up For Deportation Back To Kenya” guy?


  17. “Expect the Spencer case to lead to further public calls for a ban on flights from Africa.”

    But the question today arises, is Obama going to import foreign national Ebola cases?

    “If there was any doubt the administration is not setting the right priorities, these can be erased by a source who has informed JW of a secret plan to bring Ebola-infected non-citizens into the U.S. The plan is both illegal and dangerous, the source says. Even so, the administration is pressing ahead with plans to admit Ebola-infected non-citizens into the U.S. for treatment. The general idea is bring these Ebola victims into the U.S. within the first few days of diagnosis. As is so often the case, President Obama has decided not to inform Congress, the source has told us. The plan includes special waivers of existing laws and regulations. We do not know how much the transportation for this dangerous maneuver will cost. (Will Phoenix Air be involved?)”


  18. The Ebola virus is scary, but what is worse is the idea that we are still not taking the steps to get ready for it showing up anywhere. I am not a doctor, but if I was, no matter how remote the chances were that I would treat anyone with the virus, I would do everything I could to get ready to do so, just in case. It seems expedient to be prepared for anything, even if it never happens; no matter how big or small the clinic. http://www.harrisonmedical.org/home/location/1675

  19. “The World Health Organization has documented cases where people have developed Ebola-like symptoms, a sort of “reverse placebo” effect after prolonged exposure to media coverage after the epidemic.”

    John, this might further stimulate the economy.

    The Keynesians call it a ‘multiplier.’

  20. I’m not sure which side wins the irony match.

    The neocons for fretting about the risk of Ebola whilst ignoring the risk of invading a sovereign nation, risk of unfettered guns, risk of AGW.

    Or the ‘left’ (note inverted commas indicates that I’ve forgotten to prefix with pseudo), who get fear struck by anti-bacterial soap, cell phones and brain cancer and a minutiae of risk cataloged by the NY times, but seem rather lackadaisical about Ebola.

    I suspect if Vox had started the Ebola panic and not Donald Trump the results would have been opposite.

  21. “That’s led to speculation that he may have inadvertently exposed a lot of people.”

    Only if he kissed them.

    “We need to work with much larger numbers before we know for sure.”

    We’ve got 40 years of ebola science.

  22. It is rather perplexing how the healthcare workers with total body protection are still contracting the disease.
    Meanwhile, I’m going to moonsuit up so I can read my newspaper.

  23. “Write the Great American Novel.”

    Or the revised and accelerated ONC Ten Day Strategic Interoperability Plan, before they vacate HQ. 😉