Second Dallas Ebola Case – A Country on the Verge

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In a development that was perhaps inevitable, a nurse at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital – the healthcare facility at which Thomas Duncan was unsuccessfully treated – has tested positive for Ebola. The nurse, whose name has not been publicly released as of Monday, was part of the team caring for Duncan. Like the death of Duncan itself, her infection demonstrates the limited veneer of protection we have from this virulent disease. No single case of infection will be treated with the level of national attention bestowed on Thomas Duncan, yet even with the direct involvement of federal healthcare officials, this nurse was exposed.

For its part, the government says this is a normal, expected outcome. But that’s been their story from the beginning. While emphasizing the tragic nature of the disease in West Africa, they have gone to extraordinary lengths to calm fears at home. Some wonder, in the wake of this new infection, if their assurances are just so much hot air. If the case is confirmed by CDC officials, it will make the first time in history Ebola has spread person-to-person inside the United States.

An infectious disease specialist told CNN that the quick identification of the nurse’s illness was a sign that “the system is working.” Perhaps a better sign of the “system’s” response to the epidemic can be found in the countries of its origin, where more than 4,000 people have thus far died from the outbreak. It’s worth noting for the record that government officials still oppose the idea of shutting down travel to and from these countries.

As dedicated screenings go into effect at some of the country’s most highly-trafficked airports, there was also disturbing news from Miami International. One World Health Organization doctor – Aileen Marty – told website Fusion that she encountered no resistance whatsoever after confirming to airport officials that she had spent the last month in Nigeria. Nigeria is one of four West African countries with the worst viral outbreaks of Ebola.

“I get to the kiosk…mark the fact that I’ve been in Nigeria and nobody cares, nobody stopped me,” Marty told a reporter.

Meanwhile, it’s not even certain who’s in charge of stopping an American outbreak. According to the CDC, the power to stop the disease lies in cooperation between federal agencies and local government. In other words, protecting ourselves from a major outbreak will likely depend on the weakest link in the chain. If Ebola hits a small, underfunded community, the spread could be catastrophic. And once we go from a single infection here and there to an exponential outbreak, what chance does the federal government have of doing anything?

Even with all of this known, CDC Director Tom Frieden feels confident enough to get up in front of the country and claim, basically, that we’ve got it all under control. And maybe he’s right. Maybe this nurse will be the last infection we see stemming from the Duncan case. Maybe she didn’t – and won’t – pass it on to anyone else. Maybe screenings at five airports will be enough to prevent Ebola from entering the United States.

If it isn’t, though, and we’re on the precipice of the worst outbreak of fatal disease the country has ever seen, government officials will have much to answer for in the aftermath. If anyone’s left to question them, that is.