Attenuating the Zombie Apocalypse Warning

Today has seen many developments in the unfolding Ebola outbreak. Some highlights include further details of the experimental therapy provided to the two surviving American patients, the identification of a patient in New York City that has some risk factors for exposure, and nearly continual media coverage.

This has been an interesting summer for someone (like me) who is focused on the threat of emerging infectious diseases. First MERS, then chikungunya, and now Ebola. 

One of the tasks I take very seriously is to emphasize the importance of preparedness for these events at the individual, hospital, and larger levels. With the Ebola outbreak, I am kind of finding this preparedness emphasis to be somewhat of a 2-edged sword. While, I thought it was clever to talk to individuals about "zombie" preparedness in order to get them to think about the threat of newly emerging infectious diseases, I wonder if it went a little too far. (Disclosure: I proudly bought one of the t-shirts myself).

Preparedness has to be based on sound risk analysis. How contagious is a disease? How does it spread? Are there countermeasures? How are similar diseases handled in this country? These are the questions the answers to which should condition one's response. 

If these questions have unequivocal answers and those answers aren't integrated into response plans, the plan will be faulty.

One aspect of the current scenario that I find particularly challenging is being able to fully convince individuals of the difference between an infectious disease (which Ebola is) and a highly contagious infectious disease (which Ebola is not). I don't fully know how Ebola developed the mystique it has acquired but it clearly has to do with its portrayals in fiction, something I said in this interview

Some important pieces to read with respect to the general sentiment I am expressing include this piece by Faye Flam and this one by (one of my favorites) Maryn McKenna.

Tomorrow's news will likely bring a slew of new developments. One thing is for certain though, infectious disease and the microbes that cause them won't take a break, so we shouldn't either.