The Ebola Diary: Sunday, Oct 19 2014, Madrid

It seems like Thursday’s panic was not warranted. The three new cases taken into quarantine that day have all tested negative. Since then no new cases have arisen on the mainland (one person is under observation in Tenerife). Furthermore, the news concerning infected nurse’s aid Teresa Romero Ramos is all good: her antibody titre is high, her health has improved dramatically and not only have the last two PCRs carried out on her revealed very low levels of virus but the latest test, the results of which are just out this evening, have shown zero virus in her blood. Zero virus! If she continues along the road to this remarkable recovery she will be out of the woods very shortly and Europe’s first case of ebola will have beaten the odds and survived.

This is fantastic news. In my book it is a victory for the doctors and nurses and other sanitary workers of the Carlos III hospital not just against the formidable foe constituted by ebola, but also against their political masters — Madrid’s politically-appointed health authority, local and national ruling-party politicians, health minister, Ana Mato, and premier, Mariano Rajoy — who have demonstrated nothing but incompetence at the jobs they were elected to do, in stark contrast to the wily skills in ass-covering and self-preservation they display. All of their decisions up until the establishment of a scientist-heavy emergency committee a number of days into the crisis have smacked of the paralyzing fear of being seen to be wrong and the reluctance to take brave, decisive action. The ebola team (among others) in the hospital was broken up six months ago to save money. Then, out of the blue, in August a team was put together to attend to an ebola-infected missionary brought back from West Africa. Was this team adequately trained and kitted-out? Nope. Did politicians stand behind the team’s professionalism and dedication when Ms Romero Ramos’s infection became known? Nope: the first few days of the crisis involved lashings of politicians and health board functionaries sniping at the medics and defending their own administration and now infamous protocol. Was swift and confident action taken to minimise even the merest whiff of a chance of cross-infection of members of the public and allay our fears? Nope: those in authority’s response was characterised by dithering and uncertainty.

In contrast, the Carlos III ebola team have just gotten on with it. Words like heroism and sacrifice trip off the tongue. One’s faith in humanity is slightly restored: there are good people out there who put their lives on the line for the rest of us.

We now have a number of key dates as landmarks in what will hopefully be Madrid’s emergence from its aptly named ebola scare. On October 27, the twenty-one day period since a number of people’s last contact with Ms Romero Ramos comes to an end. Among these are the ER doctor who attended to her when she presented at Alcorcón hospital and the pair of ambulance drivers who took her there. On October 21, the people she encountered when she went to her local health centre complaining of fever will be given the all clear. Two days later, the beauticians who gave Ms Romero Ramos the most talked about waxing in memory get the green light.

Hopefully, then, by Halloween, the only terror in the city will be of the fake or fictional kind. The zombie costumes with bleeding eye sockets will have no resonance beyond the Walking Dead and the hundred or so people who could have — but didn’t — contract ebola will be toasting their doctors.

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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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