A team of 21 nurses and five doctors at Emory University have won well-deserved praise from around the country for successfully treating all four Ebola patients that have been brought to their doors for treatment. Along the way, they have pioneered new ways of treating the disease that should raise survival rates around the world.
“For the first time, Ebola can now be thought of as a manageable disease,” Dr. Stephen S. Morse, professor of epidemiology at Columbia University, told the AJC’s Craig Schneider. “We can’t guarantee the result. People do still die. But the majority of people here have survived.”
I do have a question or two, however:
Why are Dr. Bruce Ribner, nursing director Carolyn Hill and other members of the celebrated Emory team still walking around in public, going to work and living their lives like anyone else? After dealing with the disease at close quarters day after day, why aren’t they being forced into 21-day quarantines until we know for a fact that they are not contagious, as Gov. Nathan Deal has mandated for health-care workers returning from volunteer work treating Ebola in Africa?
In short, why treat nurse Kaci Hickox, the nurse now fighting quarantine in Maine, as a pariah while treating Ribner, Hill and others on the Emory team as heroes? And if we did force Ribner, Hill and others into quarantine, wouldn’t that make other American health-care workers less likely to offer care the next time an Ebola patient presents himself or herself, just as experts warn is likely to happen now overseas?
You could try to argue that health-care workers treating Ebola patients here in the United States would be less likely to contract the disease than those working in Africa, but I can think of at least two reasons that argument is nonsense. Their names are Amber Vinson and Nina Pham, American nurses who became infected with the disease while treating Thomas Eric Duncan in Dallas. (Both have been treated successfully — Vinson is among the four treated and released at Emory.)
The disease is the same, whether contracted in Africa or the United States. Lapses in protocol, wherever they occur, can have consequences. But on what rational, scientific basis do we require those who have treated Ebola patients in Africa to undergo a three-week quarantine, even when they show no sign of illness, while we impose no such requirement on those who have treated Ebola patients here?
There is none.