Their View | Ebola prompts serious action

This editorial appeared in Wednesday’s Modesto (Calif.) Bee.

On Sept. 2, seven Northeastern University scientists wrote an academic paper predicting Ebola could reach the United States by “the end of the month.”

Last week, The Washington Post reported it was only a quirk of timing that kept an American doctor in Africa long enough to realize he had the disease before returning home. Otherwise, Ebola already would have arrived in the doctor’s hometown, Dallas. The Post wondered if the “resulting panic” would be “impossible to contain” once word got out.

The Northwestern academic paper proved prophetic. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed Tuesday the first person infected with Ebola who had not been brought to the United States for treatment has, in fact, turned up in Dallas. We’ll find out shortly if there will be any “panic.” The victim was not identified, but the CDC said the person flew to Texas from Liberia on Sept. 20 and exhibited symptoms Sept. 24 before seeking care two days later.

Ebola in America. If those words don’t take your breath away, you’re hardly breathing. The disease is ravaging West Africa and experts have been screaming from the rooftops — and even the podium at the United Nations — that the world was not paying enough attention to a disease that has been doubling in scale every three weeks.

We knew it was coming. Those prescient computer modelers from Northeastern said even if air travel out of Africa had been restricted by 80 percent, it would have delayed the spread by only three to four weeks. Monday, we editorialized asking our government to make preparations, increase research funding and send more help to Africa to contain the spread.

Now those suggestions have even more urgency. What next? Quarantine Texas?

Hardly. It’s time for a deep breath while insisting that our leaders are sufficiently concerned to take emergency action. Remember, this is only one case, and the nation’s top doctor sounded the perfect note as he addressed it: “There is no doubt in my mind that we will stop it,” said Dr. Tom Frieden, head of the CDC. “This is not Africa. We have great infrastructure to deal with an outbreak.”

We have some unexpected experience, too. Ebola, like AIDS, is transmitted through bodily fluids. So the key to staying away from Ebola is to have no contact with the bodily fluids of others.

Still, there’s plenty of cause for concern. First, Ebola takes up to 10 days to manifest and death follows shortly in 70 percent of African cases. In nations with better health care it is likely to be a lower percentage, but no one knows by how much. Second, Ebola might be capable of mutation, which could make it harder to stop. So the key to stopping it is arresting the spread early — which is what doctors are trying to do in Texas.

But our leaders are on break, working to get re-elected. If they really want to show us how effective they can be, Congress can put together an emergency plan and help the CDC and doctors on the ground get started on a cure.

There’s no time to waste. Ebola has arrived.