Home » Emergency and Disaster Management » Disasters (General) » How to Decide Proper Public Health Measures for Ebola in the US

How to Decide Proper Public Health Measures for Ebola in the US

Ryan Byoko is one of two Harvard PhD candidates quarantined after returning from Liberia where they developed an Ebola tracking computer system for the Liberian government but did not treat patients with Ebola.

Ryan Boyko is one of two Harvard PhD candidates quarantined in Connecticut after returning from Liberia where they developed an Ebola tracking computer system for the Liberian government.  They did not treat patients with Ebola.

Among all of the hand-wringing, grandstanding, and debate taking place over what protocols are appropriate for implementation in the United States due to Ebola, seems no one is using some fairly easy statistics that would help make the decision easier….

I will use data that is available from Medicins Sans Frontieres (http://www.msf.ca/en/faq-msfs-ebola-response-and-protocols) as the baseline.  Currently they estimate they have 3200 staff working in Ebola affected areas, and the number working since March is “significantly higher”.  24 staff have become infected with Ebola, 7 of whom were international staff.  Most of the individuals  to have contracted Ebola were local staff who contracted it outside of MSF facilities. So 30% of Ebola cases among staff have been international workers.

Let us conservatively estimate that 6000 staff have worked to treat Ebola since March 2014.  To err on the side of caution, let us also assume all 24 staff members to have been infected with Ebola were international workers.

Percentage of workers to have contracted Ebola: 24/6000 x 100= 0.4% =  less than 1 in 200

This would be the worst-case scenario and assumes that every individual does not show symptoms of Ebola until after leaving Africa; AND that they all came to the United States (Remember only 1 MSF volunteer has developed Ebola after their return to the U.S.).  At the most, 1 in 200 returning healthcare workers would develop Ebola illness.  So if you impose quarantine you will quarantine 199 people who won’t get Ebola to catch 1 who will. Remember this is the worst case scenario: the actual probability would be much lower than this worst-case estimate.

Number of non-healthcare workers to be infected by another person with Ebola while in the United States: 0

Estimated number of contacts Ebola patients in U.S. had before being admitted to hospital: 250

Chance of contact getting Ebola outside of healthcare setting: less than 1 in 250

So, using the existing protocols where those who had treated Ebola patients in Africa would self-monitor for symptoms without any form of self-quarantine, there have been NO secondary infections in the United Sates besides healthcare workers in the hospital setting.

Neither self-imposed nor mandatory quarantines are needed at this point to protect the public. The protocols for returning healthcare workers that was in place before the first Ebola case in the U.S. works just fine.  Stop worrying America.   Governors Christie, Cuomo, and others ought to go ahead and ban automobile driving : they will prevent far more deaths and injuries, thus protecting public health to a far greater degree, by doing this than they will by cynically scapegoating valiant healthcare workers returning from Africa. 

 


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