CDC epidemic modeler Martin Meltzer is being criticized, in an AP press article by Mike Stobbe, for miscalculating the seriousness of the Ebola outbreak in West Africa. The critics say he was off by sixty-five times in the number of cases that have actually happened. His prediction last September warned “that West Africa could be on track to see 500,000 to 1.4 million Ebola cases within a few months if the world sat on its hands and let the epidemic blaze.” In fact there were only about 21,000 cases by mid-January, which is just a tiny fraction of the caseload he predicted as a possibility.
What seems impossible for those with 20/20 blind-hind-sight to see is that the huge discrepancy between the prediction of what would happen, if there was no intervention, and what actually did happen because of the intervention was because of the tremendous efforts. It required time, money and personal risk by medical personnel to combat the epidemic. The world dodged a bullet precisely because some people had sense enough sense to help us duck, before the bullet hit.
I posted my second Ebola chart on October 4, 2014. It shows a remarkably straight line growth for six months as would be expected from an unrestrained biological life form. The chart also puts into perspective what would happen if the disease continued to be unrestrained, and how long it would take to equal other human disasters like AIDS. If the after-the-fact nay-sayers had had their way, we would now have fifteen million cases, and be approaching a worldwide disaster of AIDS proportions. Fortunately Meltzer was in a position of influence, and his September paper generated an effective response.
Two weeks later I published this improved chart with more detail, and a projection of how long it would take to bring Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) under control if it required an effective vaccine to be invented. Now on August 4, 2015 there are small quantities of vaccine, and if the epidemic was still raging the curve would closely follow that projection as large quantities were manufactured. Fortunately because more traditional medical procedures applied with great effort, and at great risk, by large numbers of medical personnel worked, the number of people exposed to EVD is now small. Effective vaccines have now been invented and enough of this newly created vaccine is available that this specific form of Ebola can controlled.
The massive efforts using traditional Western medical practices of isolation of infected people and giving them supportive care began showing effects by December. Also, the local populations changing their funeral procedures and accepting safer burial practices helped prevent contagion. This success is most clearly seen in the lower curves of monthly counts of new cases C and deaths D. When there are zero new cases the lower line will drop to zero, and the upper RED LINE will go perfectly flat. The upper lines represent the total number of cases added up. The epidemic may soon end because last week there were only seven new cases in isolated locations, and the only way to catch EVD is by direct contact with fluids of a sick or dead Ebola victim. All of the known contacts with those victims are now being monitored, and hopefully the small amount of vaccine now available is being given to the possible contacts, to prevent contagion.
It sometimes takes twenty-one days for the disease to develop after exposure, so all contacts will be monitored for that long. After a doubling of that time, because of a possible undiscovered victim giving the disease to an unknown person, the epidemic will be declared ended.
This disease being brought under control and eliminated rather than exploding into a worldwide catastrophe is because many people responded to the realized threat. We should be heaping praise upon all of those who made that possible. The fact that the media isn’t reporting it as a fabulous success, as they should, saddens me. Their current reporting is focused on the complainers who claim the effort was wasted because the epidemic wasn’t as bad as it might have been is stupid. The media insists in reporting the wrong things.
What sells news is bad news!