More background on the Ebola issue

I noted a few things today in the wake of my article about the crisis last night.

1.  As I expected, sales of items related to the threat have skyrocketed.  According to CNBC, “Early figures from Amazon bear this out; as of Wednesday sales of a type of full-body protective suits were up 131,000 percent and sales for one type of mask had risen 18,000 percent in 24 hours.”  Frankly, I’m not sure why people are stocking up on protective suits.  You have to wear one every single time you enter a room with an Ebola victim;  it takes up to an hour to properly seal yourself into protective gear (and it’s very difficult to do without assistance);  and you have to discard it as soon as you leave the room – it can’t be safely re-used.  There’s little point in individuals stocking up on an item that requires assistance to put on properly and is intended for trained specialists.  I can understand stocking up on breathing masks and examination-type gloves, though.  I think everyone should have a small supply of each as part of their basic emergency supplies.

Fortunately, supermarkets appear to have plentiful supplies of bleach and other hygiene items on their shelves.  Nevertheless, I’ve added a couple more large bottles of bleach to my emergency supplies.  Mixed with water in a 50-50 concentration, it makes a very good general-purpose disinfectant.  (I’ve been in places in Africa where infectious diseases were rife.  It was normal there, before entering a building, to dip one’s hands and the soles of one’s shoes into containers of this solution, then wash one’s hands with soap and water.)

2.  Thanks to a comment from reader campbell76209 on my previous Ebola post, I was led to another blog, the Raconteur Report.  The author provides a worst-case scenario as to how many people can be infected by one person.  I hasten to add that it is a worst-case scenario, but I’ve seen precisely that scenario play out more than once in West Africa (and when I say ‘seen’, I mean with my own two eyes).  He links to a forum post that’s right on the money as far as African conditions are concerned, and will illustrate the threat posed by people flying out of that part of the world.  I highly recommend that you read both articles – and a tip o’ the hat to campbell76209 for bringing the Raconteur Report to my attention.

3.  It seems that the Dallas victim entered the country in Washington DC, then flew to Dallas.  Airlines are now scrambling to alert literally hundreds of people who shared planes with him.  The risk that any of them were infected is low, but it’s far from zero.  I hope they can find and warn them all, because if one of them develops Ebola before being tracked down, it’ll be another vector for the disease to spread.  This shows the danger of modern travel and communications systems – they can spread a disease faster than it can be contained.  By now many of the people who shared planes with the victim will have taken connecting flights somewhere else, exposing those aircraft and all aboard them to infection as well.

All of this is a wake-up call to us.  Far too many of us are complacent about such issues, dismissing warnings as ‘scaremongering’ or something similar.  They’re not.  I’ve been in Central and West Africa and seen for myself how deadly some of these diseases can be.  (Ebola’s simply the current threat – hemorrhagic fevers similar to it have been around for a very long time, and are nothing new in that part of the world.)

Take care, folks.



  1. Just on PBS this evening they had a know it all doctor state with a straight face that ending air travel to infectious areas would not work, in spite of the fact that such a policy would have kept our Liberian vector out of the country. The "journalist" did not call him on it, although to my wife's annoyance I found myself shouting at the TV over this obvious contradiction. If this is the quality of people in charge of keeping ebola under control, we do indeed have something to worry about.

  2. Regular household bleach loses about 50% of it's strength after 6 months or so of storage.

    Better to buy the shock pool treatment powder and use it to make "bleach". It's calcium hypochlorate, but it works. And it stores as long as it's sealed well.

    Google around, there are recipe's for mixing and use.

  3. The author contradicts himself by quoting an expert; " Experts say any fully-equipped hospital that follows safety protocols could prevent an American outbreak while caring for an Ebola patient. But there are four high-level isolation units designed especially to handle dreaded infectious diseases."

    and then, in his conclusions saying; " there are a total of four facilities in the entire US capable of properly handling Ebola patients without spreading the disease and making it worse"

    My local private hospital, definitely on the bottom rung of hospitaldom, has isolation space in their ICU with HEPA and UV treatment of exhaust air… You do not need a BSL4 facility to treat people with airborne diseases (which this is not, yet). Liberia has a health / safety system that reflects their economy: poor. We don't.

    None of my comments are to say people shouldn't be prepared. I was a scout too, I couldn't capitalize on Peter's recommendations to stock up, because I've had a decent supply of everything he listed for many years now. -Boyd

  4. I have 5ea of 3 different suit sizes, in case they are needed, well over 100 masks and 1000 pairs of gloves. I picked them up earlier this year, on Peter's first recommendation. Just one unopened gallon of bleach, given its' degradation rate, but 10 lbs of calcium hypochlorite (picked up originally for water treatment).

    We shall see. I'm not holing up yet, but am paying a lot more attention to where my hands touch. If those secondary folks start getting sick, I'll be wearing gloves and mask outside the house.

  5. Liquid bleach does degrade over time, depending on temperature of storage. If stored in a cellar at 60 F, probably triple the shelf life of bleach stored at 90 F.

    50% Bleach concentration is WAY more than necessary. If your bleach is new at full concentration, 5% is sufficient. If it is a year old, 10% is fine. In food service, we used the health department guidelines that you add bleach to water “until you can smell the bleach.”

    In our laboratory (BSL3), we use no higher concentration than 10% for ANYTHING. Not needed, and it just eats countertops and protective garments if used in too high a concentration.

    Got a link to Tamara’s advice today from my father, a Ph.D. Virologist and epidemiologist from way, WAY back. He says, this is why it won’t spread in the US. Her poster on US health practices for Ebola said:

    Stay home if you are sick
    Wash your hands regularly
    Do not eat fruit bats
    Do not fondle the dead
    Do not kill health care workers

    The difference between US and Central Africa is that this advice will mostly be followed, here. Please take a deep breath.


  6. As I explained extensively in comments to you at my site, boyd, "handling" Ebola patients for the average hospital stops at about 1 or 2, in rare cases maybe 10, before the exercise loses you the entire hospital for any other use.

    The Dallas hospital in question is a 968-bed facility. You can't have potential Ebola patients sitting in the waiting room next to pregnant mothers and people with broken arms, unless you're trying to graduate from epidemic to pandemic.

    The "experts" told us Ebola getting here was "unlikely". Barely a month ago, they told us it would only hit 20K patients in West Africa, total. They (now) readily acknowledge that the actual number of cases there is probably 2-3 times the "official" numbers, and that the toll could climb into the millions by New Years'.

    When I quote "experts" in this, it's frequently to underline how far off they are, or to note that things are much worse than they've considered.
    Not because I'm in lockstep with their every pronouncement.

    There is thus no contradiction involved.

    Please bear that in mind, and thanks for reading.

    And thanks to BRM for the link.

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