The Ebola Diary: Thursday, Oct 16 2014, Madrid

Is this disaster? Is this the worst-case scenario?

News has just broken that one of the seven patients who travelled in the ambulance which had taken ebola-infected nurse’s aid, Ms Teresa Romero Ramos, to Alcorcón hospital has presented with fever and is to be taken into isolation at the Carlos III hospital. Let’s not dwell on the issue of why an ambulance which carried a potential ebola-infected patient was not immediately taken off the roster and subject to a thorough decontamination but instead allowed cruise the streets of Madrid picking up patients for twelve hours. Let’s ponder as calmly as we can on what the possible transmission of ebola from Ms Romero Ramos to another person might mean.

The first series of questions that comes to mind is: who else? Some of the other men and women who had the ill fortune to be picked up in the ambulance? Some of Ms Romero Ramos’s neighbours (remember her apartment block wasn’t fumigated for three to four days after her placing in quarantine)? One of the fifteen medics in isolation and under observation? Ms Romero Ramos’s beauticians (she went for a waxing while suffering from fever)?

Second: are there individuals who have escaped the sleuthing of the authorities in their attempts to locate everyone with whom an infected and contagious Ms Romero Ramos might have had contact? How many of these people might develop fever? How many people might these infect before their own ebola is diagnosed?

Third: is there now a web of infection? Is today the inflection point at which it can all get out of hand? Is this new potential case proof of the law of unforeseen consequences and will it be from this point onwards that we will speak of an out-of-control ebola incident in Madrid?

On the subject of out of control, less than an hour ago (mid afternoon) we learned of the isolation in Madrid’s Barajas airport of an aeroplane which had touched down from Paris: a man, travelling from Nigeria had complained of fever on board. This man is now in the Carlos III Hospital, as is a new patient — a missionary from Liberia, whose transport has been kept very hush-hush up until now (understandable, given what happened as a result of the last missionary’s repatriation). What is going to be done with all the other people on that flight? Twenty-one days of observation and hellish fretting? How I would not like to be in their shoes.

It seems to be all happening this afternoon. We have enjoyed a number of tranquil days on the ebola front, with no news other than that of Ms Romero Ramos’s apparent recovery — she’s producing antibodies, she’s talking, she’s eating, the titre of virus in her blood is lowering. Now the cat is truly among the pigeons. This really is an emergency. It really is game on. This is not just hype.

As we await the PCR test that will tell us if this person presenting with fever is ebola pos or neg, the vista darkens. President Obama’s recent speech comes to mind, where he argued that if ebola isn’t dealt with in Africa, it will keep jumping into our realities here in the West, just as it has today. And both in America and Spain, in spite of our technology and highly trained personnel and emergency protocols and resources, it looks like we are having as much trouble dealing with the virus as they are in West Africa.




About ucronin

Microbiologist, brewer, writer, fan of James Joyce, guitar player and gardener, U. Cronin was born in the county town of Ennis, Co. Clare. He's spent much of his adult years moving country — between Spain and Ireland — and at present he is to be found back in his native town. Author of five novels and working on a sixth, U. is back in the lab and engaging his passion for looking for bugs using very bright lasers. Let's hope it turns out well!
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