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A 25-year-old man who in March was diagnosed with tuberculosis was arrested some 15 miles outside of Bakersfield, California, after vacating a motel room in which he was ordered to remain while receiving treatment.

Half a world away, The World Health Organization has confirmed more than 800 Ebola cases in three West African nations. Thus far, one American has died and two more are gravely ill.

Appearing Tuesday, July 29 on CNN to address the concern that Ebola’s emergence outside of West Africa may be but one airline flight away, Dr. Marty Cetron, director of the CDC’s Global Migration and Quarantine Division, indicated that preparation, recognition and containment is “more important than speculating on propababilites of disease moving around by plane”.

The CDC describes the risk of Ebola showing up in the United States as “remote”. The American widow of a top official in the Liberian Ministry of Finance, whose spouse collapsed and later died, sees it differently. Decontee Sawyer told a Minnesota news station that the outbreak “is as close as the front door”.

The contrasts are stark: On the one hand, long-accepted efforts to contain the spread of TB have allowed for the arrest and forcible quarantine of an uncooperative patient in California. On the other hand, the CDC has done little more than issue an advisory to U.S. doctors regarding the West African outbreak. Notably missing from the CDC’s response is the means by which the agency is working to prevent Ebola’s emergence here on the home front.

Perhaps fear of public panic has shuttered what are, in fact, more proactive containment efforts behind the CDC’s closed doors. Whatever the case may be, the public face of the CDC on the heels of several domestic near-misses would appear to be oddly passive. Impacted nations in West Africa have begun to shut down borders and to screen prospective airline passengers, yet prevention efforts within the U.S. are at best low key. The CDC’s efforts to assure reporters that North Americans have little to fear may signal reassurance to some, but may also play like a case of institutional hubris: “It won’t happen here.” and “Our medical system is too sophisticated to have it go far if it does.”.

Anyone who has sought timely treatment from the Veteran’s Administration or shown up at a suburban emergency room, as I did earlier this year, without so much as an available wheelchair or gurney might beg to differ with the notion that the U.S. health care system is in any way, shape or form prepared for a natural disaster on the order of Hurricane Katrina, let alone global pandemic. But we live in a society in which saying that we’re safe often passes for the real thing, thanks to a coping mechanism known as the “normalcy bias“.

Call it denial or call it overconfidence, our vulnerabilities tend to remain unchallenged until the unthinkable occurs. Ebola notwithstanding, we remain at risk of “medical terrorism” — that is, terrorists’ use of infectious people as biological weapons. As efforts to board airliners with conventional explosives fail, it is not beyond the scope of possibility that terrorists will board seriously ill passengers on international fights as an alternative.

Isn’t it time we walked the walk of public safety, not merely talk the talk?

In view of the gaping security hole we have tolerated all these years as we focus on shoe and even cell phone bombers — and now with the impetus of the Ebola outbreak at our backs — might it be appropriate to implement a brief health screening, executed in tandem with the screening procedures international travelers are already accustomed to?

Step 1: Check for fever. There are non-invasive means of doing so, and as a timesaver this could be done while passing baggage through scanners.

Step 2: Using multilingual pamphlets as an aid, ask prospective international travelers six questions:

1) Have you or someone you are traveling with recently come into contact with an individual hospitalized for a communicable illness?

2) Have you or someone you have recently come into contact with experienced nausea or diarrhea, not related to a previously diagnosed medical condition?

3) Are you presently experiencing body aches not related to physical exertion or a previously diagnosed medical condition?

4) In the past 72 hours have you experienced unusually severe or persistent headaches, not related to a known condition such as a migraine?

5) In the past 72 hours have you developed a sudden, persistent or severe cough, not related to a previously-diagnosed condition?

6) Have you experienced rapid or severe irritation of the throat or skin within the past 72 hours, not related to a previously-diagnosed medical condition?

Thanks to technology, public health officials could be made available over Skype to address any questions that may arise out of such screening. Alternately, nurse practitioners could be employed by the Transportation and Security Administration (TSA) to evaluate travelers who are flagged for fever and/or for answering “Yes” to two or more questions indicated above. To be clear, these efforts would not reveal the cause or seriousness of such symptoms. Even so, with cancer patients, the very young, the very old and the immuno-compromised vulnerable even to ordinary communicable illnesses, a greater emphasis on infectious disease prevention can only help, not harm, society. In the broader view, moreover, efforts to normalize screening measures could perform a valuable public service. It could help drive home a universally-relevant message — that it is best to stay home while ill — and thus prime the public to take proper precautions and/or heed public health warnings in the event of a genuine pandemic threat.

Ebola in West Africa may indeed come and go, leaving the developed world largely untouched. But tragedies like this are opportunities, too. The Ebola outbreak highlights the need for authorities to make international travel by airline and cruise ship safer. Far from triggering panic, routine screening efforts are likely to become accepted in due time. In this way, should an even greater pandemic threat emerge, there will already be people and procedures in place to identify and curtail the spread of infectious diseases at international travel hubs — all without raising undo alarm. If public health officials are at all concerned that new or intrusive efforts to step up prevention will only provoke needless panic, a desensitizing strategy in which such screenings become the norm, not the exception, would go a long way toward putting to rest much of the debate: Do we act now or do we wait?

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Some years after the G. W. Bush administration’s entry into the Iraq war, American news outlets admitted to dropping the ball. Mainstream media acknowledged they did too little to question the purported evidence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, whereas challenges to the Bush administration’s assertion that Iraq and the 9/11 tragedy were linked aired only belatedly. Over a decade later, the U.S. media has again dropped the ball. This time, though, the actors are different: Ukraine vs. Russia.

To hear mainstream U.S. media tell it, one could be forgiven for the belief that any and all claims of a Neo Nazi presence in Ukraine are propagandist fragments of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s imagination. The tragic shoot-down of Malaysian flight MH 17 — on the anniversary of World War I — has only added to the pressure that the West intervene. Still, media fails to recognize its role in perpetuating conflict.

Shortly before the U.S. began trotting out the interim Ukrainian prime minister following the overthrow of Ukraine’s democratically elected president earlier this year, The Guardian published profiles of Ukrainian parliament members. Putin, it turns out, was not lying. Historically, elements within the region sympathized with fascist Germany and some fought on Hitler’s side during World War II, prompting animosities that exist to this day.

Why does this matter? Because failure to appreciate our present — and to grasp our past — may doom us to repeat history.

In an apparent effort to turn down the heat, journalist and Morgan State University School of Global Journalism and Communication dean, DeWayne Wickham, argues in a March USA Today piece that U.S. hegemony in the creation of Panama and Russia’s hegemony with respect to Ukraine are not terribly different.

Judging from the response the piece drew, Wickham’s point was lost on many readers. Accusations mounted: Wickham had attempted to excuse Putin’s audacity in Crimea. Wickham had cited an passé example, irrelevant because the creation of Panama took place over 100 years ago.

It’s all too easy to dismiss the events of the past — or, conversely, latch onto the tragedy of the moment (flight MH 17) — to justify an existing conclusion. But this time getting the facts right matters because the wrong response may very well provoke another Great War.

Wickham concludes that neither the U.S. or Russia has the moral high ground within a historic context. So what’s the point in comparing U.S. and Russian hegemony if it is not for the purpose of excusing anyone? Perhaps this: As Americans better appreciate our role in history, it becomes apparent that escalating international tensions often travel a well-worn path. If keeping history alive to tell the tale of hubris past gives pause to the drums of war, so be it. The alternative is to take two, three, four, even five geopolitical wrongs and to make-believe might makes right.

Haven’t we been down this road before?

 

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The Washington Post asks, “Was it ‘crazy’ for this scientist to re-create a bird flu virus that killed 50 million people?

Let me cut to the chase.

Yes.

Just about anyone paying heed the past five to 10 years might have noticed a near-constant drumbeat on the possibility of pandemic: SARS, bird flu, swine flu — the so-called Zombie Apocalypse, courtesy of the Centers for Disease Control! Inundated by pandemic warnings, one could be forgiven for wondering what the powers that be know that we apparently do not. If Mother Nature won’t cull the herd fast enough might a self-fulfilling prophecy of the pandemic kind do?

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By 2015 Americans are expected to spend nearly $300 billion on anti-aging products. Consumers’ willingness to shell out vast sums of money on skin care products proliferated even in the depths of the Great Recession, and the trend shows no sign of slowing down.

A closer look at the wording associated with anti-aging advertising claims reveals something many consumers miss. The best a manufacturer can claim of a wrinkle cream or serum without running afoul of the FDA is to “minimize the appearance of wrinkles” — a subjective, not objective claim. Essentially, any product to effectively treat dry skin — whether it claims to combat wrinkles or not — can temporarily minimize the appearance of wrinkles.

 

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