I remember my teacher asking me, as a child, how much money I’d have if he gave me a penny and I doubled that penny each day for one month. I was astounded at the outcome of $5,368,709.12 after just 30 days of compounding.
Now, let’s consider a more human element. Consider the number of people you come in contact with each and every day, or even your primary contacts. Then consider the people who had contact with your primary contacts and would be considered secondary contacts. Next multiply this by any number from 2 to 21, which is the incubation period for the Ebola virus. Now add to the equation the first documented case of Ebola in the United States.
According to NBC News, the patient came from Liberia. He left Monrovia Sept. 19 and arrived in the United States Sept 20. Health officials won’t give many details about the patient, but Centers for Disease Control and Prevention director Dr. Thomas Frieden says he was visiting relatives who live in the United States, implying he may not himself be a U.S. citizen. Health officials also say he does not appear to have been a health worker. Prior to this case, the four Ebola patients evacuated to the U.S. for treatment have all been American doctors or medical missionaries.
The Ebola virus causes an acute, serious illness which is often fatal if untreated. Ebola virus disease first appeared in 1976 in two simultaneous outbreaks, one in Nzara, Sudan, and the other in Yambuku, Democratic Republic of Congo. The latter occurred in a village near the Ebola River, from which the disease takes its name.
Ebola is often fatal in humans and primates. It generally spreads from wild animals and in the human population through contact transmission. Despite this, it is important to note that there have been previous studies that did correlate airborne transmission of the virus through pigs to monkeys.
This may be a valid concern, as the Ebola virus is thought to mutate frequently. The biggest concern is a potential mutation could cause easier transmission of the deadly disease.
The average Ebola fatality rate is around 50%, ranging by strain from 25% to 90% in past outbreaks. Ghastly symptoms include fever of greater than 101.5, severe headaches, muscle pain, weakness, diarrhea, vomiting, and unexplained bruising and hemorrhagic bleeding, often leading to organ failure, shock and death.
Previously, Ebola has been limited to villages in Central Africa. This year has been a much different story, with the latest outbreak occurring in major population centers of West Africa. Now, the first documented case has been reported in the United States. So what does this mean from a claims perspective?
It was originally reported that the current victim sought medical care on September 24th at which time he was released back into the public. On the 26th he returned for care to a different facility, was admitted and proper isolation methods were applied. Is there potential liability on the first medical facility should others come down with this disease? What about the first responders who are now in quarantine? Did they have contact with others? What about the ambulance that provided transport? Has it been properly sanitized? Was there a period of time when others were needlessly exposed to Ebola?
It is unlikely that the victim knew he had Ebola when coming into the United States, although in this day and age of increased threats against the homeland, bioterrorism should never be ruled out. The bigger concern is the advent of a true pandemic not seen since the 1918 influenza that is estimated to have killed 100 million people.
Through the prism of history, pandemics have occurred every 30 to 50 years. Given the frequency and typical life expectancies, most people will see one to two pandemics in their lifetime. In many situations, the young and old are often the majority of the victims due to developing or weakened immune systems. However, the 1918 Spanish influenza pandemic was relatively indiscriminant. Arguably the worst pandemic of the 20thcentury, this pandemic occurred on the heels of WWI, killing more people than the war itself.
The last global influenza pandemic was in 1968, with the Hong Kong flu. AIDS is considered a pandemic which rose to prominence in the 1980s and still has no cure.