COSTA RICA NEWS (Opinion by Rod Hughes , iNews.co.cr) — After earlier in the week the announcement that the Social Security (Caja) universal health care system in this country was braced to deal with any Ebola cases, La Nacion Saturday published doubts that the country’s health care providers had either the equipment or the proper training to deal with the virus.

o-EBOLA-VIRUS-750The outbreak in West Africa in three nations ill-equipped to stem the scourge has raised more of a panic in the West. The United States has had one death and this country none, probably due to Costa Rica having from little to no interests in that region and so no traffic of infected persons.

Still, it is a journalistically “sexy” subject very popular with social media and the U.S. press. Panic seems to be the largest feature of the disease where one “expert” told CNN that jetliners coming in from West Africa would “take weeks” to decontaminate.

Meanwhile, in this country, so far we have seen 17 deaths from the common, garden-variety influenza that we have learned long ago to live with. Meanwhile, we also have learned to live with HIV-AIDS and this is far more a health threat than Ebola.

Let us look at the illness with a clear eye–yes, it is lethal, having a death rate of 50% even with treatment. No, it is not airborne and is transmittable only by exchange of bodily fluids, according to the Center for Disease Control (CDC) in Atlanta in the U,.S.

Outside the human body it is delicate and the virus is viable only briefly on surfaces such as jetliner cushions and floors. Health care workers are at risk caring for patients but with proper protections, it is less contagious than many other diseases.

If one wants the real story, ignore the blogs and go directly to the CDC Internet pages. (We remember the Internet-fostered rumor in the late 1980s that one could catch AIDS from one’s cat! Yes, felines have a sexually transmitted virus but it is species specific and, although one may be affectionate with one’s pet, it is in a much different way than with a human.)

La Nacion’s scary article was accompanied by an illustration of a health care worker dressed as if to moonwalk — except for the lack of the the air pack. The story would tell us that this nation is vulnerable through both its international airports and its seaports.

The article further quoted Health Ministry disease control official Maria Ethel Trejos as noting that this country does not have the budget to place a 24-hour control on this ports of entry. But this country is neither in West Africa nor heavily trafficked by residents of that region.

To give the La Nacion reporter credit she did note that the virus has been around since 1976 in Africa and is not nearly the contagion threat that flu is. But the Health Ministry and Caja have named several hospitals as key points in case of Ebola infection.

One is Enrique Baltodano Hospital in Liberia, near Daniel Oduber International Airport. Another is San Rafael Hospital in Alajuela, a short one kilometer ambulance ride from Juan Santamaria Airport. This latter would have support from San Vicente de Paul Hospital in Heredia.

Others at ports of entry would be Tony Facio Hospital in Limon and Cuidad Neilly in the southern zone, backed up by the National Children’s Hospital and Calderon Guardia in San Jose. Already the Red Cross and the national police are in training and due to obtain equipment to transport patients, if they appear.

But even at that, Red Cross units do not have the specialized “capsule” inside their ambulances, instead using the tried and true plastic garbage bags. Properly used, they should be adequate for the thousand ambulances they hope to equip.

The national police hope eventually to train its 14,000 officers but will start with the 1,500 currently watching ports of entry. Do not expect, however, the electronic thermometers that register de-planing passenger temperatures without actually touching them at JFK International in New York.

Despite an almost non-existent traffic from West Africa to this country, a week ago, La Nacion reports, an undocumented person from Ghana was discovered in Barrio Mexico of San Jose. He was found to be carrying no disease and was not ill but it was enough to set police and Health officials’ pulses racing.

This incident should be comforting to persons worried about Ebola. It contrasts with this reporter’s experience with his writing of the first stories on the AIDS epidemic in the later 1980s for The Tico Times. Interviews with health officials turned up a surprising attitude

First, the official was more worried about the spread of syphilis than the threat of HIV. At that time, it was considered here as “a gay disease” and when I asked about the danger of it spreading into the heterosexual sector of society, I was assured “no danger.”

This reporter became aware of the homophobic view of the official when he sniffed that “we have the homosexuals to thank for the introduction of AIDS.” Less than a decade later, not only gays were blamed but all North Americans were considered suspect.

In order to renew his cedula de residencia, this reporter was obliged to take a blood test for AIDS and other assorted sexual ills as well. I remember after getting the results from the Health Ministry, announcing proudly to my wife that I had no “AIDS, syphilis or rabies.”

Today, West Africans carry the same stigma.


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