Tyler Kokjohn Breaks Down The Ebola Epidemic For Us

The Ebola Epidemic – Simple and Not So Simple
Tyler A. Kokjohn, Ph.D.

Some aspects of the Ebola epidemic are simple.  Hemorrhagic fevers caused by agents like the Ebola viruses are some of the deadliest infectious disease agents known and there is a substantial risk this expanding epidemic will spread across the world.  Because vaccines remain in the testing stage and there are no reliable treatment options, the outbreak will be brought under control only if and when the chain of person-to-person virus transmission is broken.  Achieving that critical goal will require substantial help from the international community.

Some issues are less clear cut, although it is still possible to get a sense of the situation.  The current outbreak began about a year ago in Africa and has already taken a terrible toll in human lives.  This is the largest Ebola virus disease epidemic ever seen and it is growing rapidly.  However, the experts have only approximate counts of infections and deaths, making it difficult to project what may come next.  Epidemiologists, scientists and futurists have warned for decades that viral hemorrhagic fevers and air travel could be a deadly combination.  We are now watching that nightmare scenario unfold.

Regrettably, the lack of medical resources has facilitated the spread of Ebola virus disease.  Perhaps some looking at those desperate conditions reached an erroneous conclusion: that if a traveler brought Ebola out of Africa, the superior capabilities of the medical care systems in the developed world would suffice to keep disaster at bay.  Author and emerging disease expert Laurie Garrett (@Laurie_Garrett) summed up the situation succinctly: a significant impediment to the US public health system response to the Ebola epidemic challenge may have been simple overconfidence.

The arrival in the US of the first Ebola case in a traveler promptly exploded the myth of public health system preparedness.  Knowing how to control Ebola infections is one thing, reducing that knowledge to actual practice is something else.  Watching the situation in Africa grow worse, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) authorities seem never to have asked some simple questions regarding how the US system might respond to the real thing.  How long would it take to recognize an Ebola-infected patient had arrived unannounced at a medical center emergency department, an urgent care facility or a private practitioner’s office and what would happen after that?  How many medical facilities across the nation were realistically ready to rapidly diagnose, isolate and treat such challenging patients?  Perhaps confident that the Ebola infections in the US would be contained quickly, the CDC seems never to have anticipated that some simple errors compounded by a lack of preparedness could end up manufacturing secondary cases in medical personnel with the potential to spark additional, entirely home-grown, outbreaks.  The tragic debacle surrounding events in Dallas exposed weaknesses and dramatically heightened public concern over the Ebola threat to the US.

This Ebola epidemic will pose a global public health menace for many months or perhaps even years and we are all simply going have to learn to live with that threat.  But it is not going to be easy.  One problem is the enhanced surveillance system has a gaping hole.  Taking the body temperature of airline passengers may prevent some infectious Ebola carriers from boarding planes or enable them to be recognized on arrival in the US.  But had the enhanced screening procedures been in place a month earlier, the late Thomas Eric Duncan, the first traveler to reach the US while incubating an unrecognized Ebola infection, would probably have breezed right through them.  In addition, it is unclear if an infected person who takes ibuprofen or other fever-lowering drugs could then pass body temperature screening without being recognized.  Influenza season is just beginning and travelers with fever will increase, will the comparatively rare Ebola-infected person get lost when screeners must contend with a large crowd of false alarms?

If air travel poses the greatest danger to spread Ebola to the US, isn’t banning all flights to areas involved in the epidemic a simple solution to the problem?  Because the virus is a global threat, ensuring public security involves more than simply locking US borders to air traffic from a few countries.  Some actions, although imperfect, have been taken.  The CDC has issued advisories to discourage nonessential travel to Ebola epidemic areas and most (but not all) air passengers arriving in the US from those locations are now subject to enhanced screening.  Authorities resist imposing outright air travel bans arguing such actions might impede arrival of aid and do more harm than good.  In addition, suggesting people will evade any ban by travelling overland to other airports, they argue it could become even harder to detect Ebola-infected passengers if potentially exposed individuals start coming from many origination points.  The fact that the control measures have some obvious holes makes it difficult to argue that the public safety is assured.  Meeting this particular challenge may ultimately necessitate greatly increased reliance on military resources and we will probably soon see measures that fall somewhere in between a total ban and unfettered free travel.

Ultimately our security hinges on achieving success in two activities: controlling the Ebola outbreak at its source and preventing its spread.   The US must participate in a global effort to ensure sufficient essential goods and services necessary to suppress the epidemic reach the affected localities and air travelers departing from outbreak areas are screened thoroughly and advised of their situation appropriately.  It may be both cost effective and efficacious to abandon a strictly US-centric perspective as soon as possible and bolster the capabilities of the neighboring African countries not yet involved in the epidemic to screen air passengers prior to departure and deal effectively with any infected individuals.  Travel ban or not, travelers incubating Ebola could literally show up anywhere at anytime.

Perhaps 20,000 cases of Ebola virus disease have appeared in Africa to date, yet only one traveler incubating an infection has reached the US.  The good news is that the frequency of infected travelers has been low and the US may have sufficient time to improve its response measures before any more arrive in the future.  The bad news is that the epidemic is expanding which suggests the risk of spread to new areas is likewise increasing.  It is not clear how many simultaneously appearing Ebola cases the US medical system could accommodate and it may not take too many poorly handled situations to simply overwhelm the American public health system.  Perhaps the appointment of an Ebola Czar will hasten the adoption of practical and proactive measures to avert that crisis.  If any additional infected travelers reach the US and spark more outbreaks in medical personnel or the general public, the demands to impose simple, possibly counterproductive political solutions on the long-term and complicated challenges we face may become irresistible.

The Ebola epidemic is growing and the threat it poses to global public health is expanding.  This situation will remain a hazard to global public health for many months or years into the future.  Neither a miracle cure nor a vaccine is going to appear and get the world out of this situation, we will simply have to do this one the old fashioned way and break the chain of virus transmission.  This will require fostering an international effort with resources sufficient to eradicate the Ebola epidemic in Africa while in the interim working to prevent it from sparking any new outbreaks in the US or other parts of the world.

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Ebola facts – http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2014/07/31/world/africa/ebola-virus-outbreak-qa.html?_r=0

October Surprise: Whitley Strieber Resurrects Me From The Podcasting Dead

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Premieres Oct. 22nd Exclusively unknowncountry.com

UPDATE: The Experience is now available: http://www.unknowncountry.com/experience/latest

Two years ago I left paranormal podcasting behind. I felt like I had nothing left to give and that Jeff and I had done some fairly revolutionary things with Paratopia that we could be proud of. Likewise, we had guests that revolutionized the way we thought about high strangeness phenomena. Now it was over. I’d served my time. I learned what I was going to learn, taught what I had to teach, and that was that. Neither Jeff nor I wanted to do a show for the sake of doing a show, so we called it.

Still, the episodes that stuck with me as a way to pursue this in the future were the listener episodes. Hearing real life encounters from real people with no agenda and exploring them together–that held my interest. I tried branching off into new video territory with the short-lived Paratopia Presents: Talk Story. I thought doing interviews and roundtables via Google Hangouts would be the wave of the future. Perhaps it is, but the technology simply isn’t where I need it to be yet. It was impossible to synch up people from different countries or using different speed modems. And then there’s the problem of it randomly hanging up on me–not good when hosting a show.

That it didn’t work out was fine by me. More time to write and snorkel and play my part in small town Hawaiian living. Plus, there was still a matter of seeing Project Core to its finish. (Almost there. For real this time.)

I’d been asked a number of times over the years when I would be coming back to podcasting or when Jeff and I would resurrect Paratopia. Jeff has moved on to his own show, Paranormal Waypoint. Paratopia lives on in its archive. The idea of doing some specials for that archive with Jeff was appealing,  but beyond that I didn’t see a future for me in this. In fact, last month I was a guest on Project Archivist wherein host/friend Roejen was doing his usual haranguing, telling me I was going to get back into podcasting eventually as if it were a forgone conclusion. But he was wrong. It wasn’t. Until about a week later when friend and Paratopia listener episode alum Joe Gooch messaged me asking if I’d seen this.

This was Whitley Strieber looking for a new half-hour show to fill the open slot left by William Henry. Henry hosted Revelations on Unknowncountry.com quite successfully and was moving on. If anyone could drag me out of podcasting retirement, it would be Whitley Strieber. So, I pitched him an idea. An idea based on the Paratopia listener episodes. An idea that he loved and here it is….

experience-view

Premiering exclusively at http://www.unknowncountry.com, The Experience is a weekly half-hour program wherein I interview experiencers of all high strangeness phenomena. Anything and everything is on the table. Let’s explore it all: what it means to be an experiencer; what the experience itself may mean beneath its obvious surface. And what is an “experience of high strangeness?” Does it hold at its core a singular intelligence using numerous facades like tools to interact with us, or are we embedded in a much larger ecosystem filled with multiple intelligences and energies that live on the periphery of our senses? Or is something else entirely going on?

Each episode will have a particular theme in mind. Because it’s only a half-hour show, there’s a real learning curve here for me in trying to key in on the important questions to ask. I may have to actually write questions down beforehand!–The horror!

In the inaugural episode I talk to Joe Gooch who not only lit this fuse but also kindly donated the theme song. We get an overview of some of his experiences through the years leading to the question, Are experiencers special?

We often get that question, “Why you?” And we think to ourselves, “Why me?” Who better to ask than a man who was once told by a psychic medium that he himself would one day be a psychic medium so powerful that she’d be coming to him for readings? (And to date, it hasn’t happened!)

The Experience can be heard every Wednesday exclusively at www.unknowncountry.com. It is a show by experiencers, about experiencers, for everybody. For it to succeed I’m going to need your help. If you’ve had a high strangeness, paranormal, ufological, spiritual, by whatever category experience and would like to be a guest, write to me at:

theexperience808 @ gmail.com

All interviews are anonymous unless you’re already a public figure in this, so the pressure is off.

And if you’re not an experiencer but would like to talk about anything you’ve heard on the show, write to me at the same address. Every ten episodes I will be doing a review of details that jumped out at me over the course of the previous nine. This can be a solo show or with anyone from the audience who would like to discuss it.

Really, this is all of our show. That’s something we worked for on Paratopia. It was one of those revolutionary ideas: Hey, what if we gave the show over to the listeners? It may have been an idea ahead of its time a few years ago but it feels right on time now.

On October 22nd some undisclosed date in the very near future, possibly tomorrowit’s time… to hear from you.

The Hero’s Journey of Michael Shermer?

Is Michael Shermer making that difficult and rare transformation from debunker to proper skeptic? His latest article in Scientific American indicates yes. Notice how I did not say “from debunker to believer,” because that would be a wrong move. We need open minds, not belief in either direction. The closest we can get to a useful belief is to admit that there is something here in the paranormal muck worth investigating honestly. Although he might say he was always open, always honest in his inquiries, I don’t think his track record shows that. But I think the record has scratched, to mix metaphors, and a new track is beginning.

Shermer might say it started with the incident spelled out in the article linked above. I’d say it’s merely the latest incident in his life, and one that he cannot ignore–perhaps because it affected someone he loves and trusts. If he had been alone, he might brush it off. But he’s not going to be so coarse to his new bride. To his true love. Perhaps this is the sledgehammer it takes a trickster intelligence to crack the walls of a professional skeptic.

Paging George Hansen.

In any event, kudos to Shermer for being open with this in such a public way. If nothing else, it will be a lesson in humility, for he is no doubt on the receiving end of a backlashing from the well-trained arrogant subset of loyal readers who never understood that science wasn’t about being able to declare reality’s boundaries, but being curious enough to question them.

Then again, I just read this and now have to wonder if he’s just trying to pull focus from the allegations by making it known that he’s married in a revelatory  article that will almost certainly be read more widely than his usual stuff.

Again I say, “Paging George Hansen!”