1st Case of Ebola In Dallas, Texas

Today it was announced a man in Dallas is infected with the Ebola virus (he had recently traveled to Liberia, Africa).

As with breaking news of this type, people’s responses range from “we’re all going to die!!!” to “nothing to see here, move along.”

Of course ‘don’t panic’ is always good advice.

It reminds me of 1991, when Magic Johnson announced he was infected with HIV (Johnson used an unfortunate choice of words when he said “…I will now become a spokesman for the HIV virus.”)

It was a time of some fear and uncertainty where the Hollywood crowd resorted to ‘air-kissing’ one/another so as to avoid direct skin contact.

NBA players expressed concern about playing with someone infected with HIV for fear of getting infected themselves.

At the same time, in my corner of the world (environmental/wastewater treatment) I attended a seminar on waterborne diseases, intended to be a review of the more well-known ones, including dysentery, shigellosis, typhoid, Hepatitis A, etc.

The speaker was an epidemiologist/communicable disease expert. He went through his presentation in a dry monotone not unlike that of Ferris Bueller’s teacher.

Finally, he wrapped up his presentation and said, “Questions?” I could see many people were about to burst and hands instantly shot up throughout the room.

“What about AIDS?” many exclaimed, with many others murmuring “Mmm hmm” and other affirmations.

The speaker took quite a bit of time to answer the flurry of that one question, reviewing the relevant science that was known at the time of how HIV is transmitted (blood to blood, exchange of body fluids, frailty of the HIV virus outside the human body, etc.).

I could see the speaker was getting a little frustrated at the same question being asked repeatedly and was making a determined effort to maintain his dry professionalism.

Finally, he said: “Look. The only way you can get AIDS from wastewater is if you have sex with an infected person in the influent channel.”

And with that, the questions ceased and the presentation came to a close.

Of course, Ebola is a different virus from HIV, but we do know much of how it’s transmitted and how to prevent infection, so similar to our experience with HIV, I’m putting my money on sound science, enlightened public health policy (we’ll see here) and compassionate care for the afflicted.


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