[UPDATE BY PATTERICO: Every so often, a blogger has a screw-up so epic, you just have to laugh. The original version of the post originally got Pacific and Eastern time backwards. You had one job in this post, Patterico, and it was getting the times right. One job! (It’s not as I don’t know Eastern time is later; the best I can say is that it’s a brain freeze.) This error distorted the timetable and changes the argument entirely. If I were Big Media, I would quietly remove the post or issue a tiny correction several days later. Instead, I will leave up the original post for comic effect, and add a postscript at the end indicating what the analysis should be using accurate times. Turns out, in the classic tradition of fake but accurate, that there is still a concern. — Patterico]
On Saturday I noted a possible Ebola scare in Newark. It was quickly said to be a false alarm, and I dutifully passed along that information as well. After all, we learned: “Federal health officials say Ebola has been ruled out as the cause of illness for a man who had traveled in West Africa and became sick on a flight from Brussels to the U.S.” And what possible reason could we have to doubt the word of federal health officials?
Wait just a second . . .
Let’s take a closer look at the L.A. Times story I linked to show it was a false alarm.
The ailing passenger, identified only as a 35-year-old man, began vomiting on a United Airlines flight that had flown from Brussels and landed at Newark Liberty International Airport around 12:15 p.m., a law enforcement official told the Los Angeles Times.
I assume that means 12:15 p.m. Newark time, which is 3:15 p.m. Pacific time. Then we see a number of updates to the story, each with a time stamp. I assume the time stamps are all Pacific time, including this one:
4:56 p.m.: This post has been updated to report that a man who fell ill aboard a flight to New Jersey does not have Ebola.
So the plane lands at 12:15 p.m. Eastern, and by 1:56 p.m. Eastern they are told he does not have Ebola. That’s less than 1 3/4 hours later.
Newsweek has a story about how quickly a test can be done:
But how do you actually test to see if someone has the virus?
Thomas Ksiazek, a professor at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston who has done extensive research on Ebola, says that testing is done using a process called real-time RT-PCR, or reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction.
In this technique, doctors or medical personnel take samples of blood from a patient. They then add an enzyme to convert RNA found in the blood into DNA (RNA is a chemical messenger that helps turn DNA’s “instructions” into proteins). Next, a “primer” is added that targets a string of genetic code unique to the Ebola virus. The concoction is then run through a PCR machine, wherein that strand of Ebola genetic material is amplified, or copied, many times (if it’s there, that is. If it’s not, nothing happens and the test returns a negative.)
Finally, a chemical probe is added that binds to these snippets of DNA and alerts the scientists to the presence of the Ebola virus, Ksiazek tells Newsweek. The whole process can take as little as three to four hours.
Quick math review: three to four hours is more than 1 3/4 hours.
Dr. Bill Frist has explained that these tests must take place in a lab, and not just any lab:
Isolating the virus provides the most sensitive and specific diagnosis, but requires transport of biohazard material to a BSL-4 lab, of which there are few in the world. Alternatively there are reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) and quantitative PCR, which are both very sensitive and specific, but again require a lab.
If you look closely at the stories saying this was a false alarm, the basis for that statement appears to be that, yes, the passenger had been to Liberia, and yes, he had been vomiting — but his other symptoms were not consistent with Ebola. That’s probably right. But I had uncritically assumed — and I bet many of you did too — that he had actually been tested, and Ebola had been ruled out. But upon closer examination, there simply wasn’t time to do that.
Just another reminder to be skeptical of your government.
MORE REASONS TO TRUST! As I have reminded you more than once, Obama told us all on September 16: “We’re working with hospitals to make sure that they are prepared, and to ensure that our doctors, our nurses and our medical staff are trained, are ready, and are able to deal with a possible case safely.” And sure enough, if you look at the CDC Web site, you see this:
As part of a comprehensive and coordinated response to the 2014 Ebola outbreak in West Africa, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is developing an introductory training course for licensed clinicians (e.g., nurses, physicians, and other healthcare providers) intending to work in an Ebola Treatment Unit (ETU) in Africa. This course will take place in the United States.
Wonderful! When did that happen?
The 3-day course will run each Monday thru Wednesday, beginning October 6, 2014, for the next 3 months (the course will be suspended during weeks containing Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Day holidays; the course may also be suspended intermittently for 1-week periods to revise course content and delivery).
Oh. It’s starting . . . today.
Well, it’s only closing the barn door after the horse is gone if something already happened, and it appears that the situation in Dallas is well in hand, what with . . . wait, what’s this? From yesterday:
Update at 2 p.m.: Lauren Trimble, Jenkins chief of staff, said the man has been located and is now being monitored.
Original post: Dallas County law enforcement officers are looking for a man who reportedly rode in the Dallas Fire-Rescue ambulance that had carried a man stricken with Ebola to Texas Health Presbyterian hospital.
County Judge Clay Jenkins said Dallas police and county sheriff’s deputies are trying to find the man, who reports have suggested is homeless.
(Judge Clay Jenkins is the lefty judge who went to visit the Ebola patient without any protective gear and then proudly gave a press conference while wearing the same shirt.)
Luckily, the federal government says that homeless people have almost no personal contact with people, and tend to maintain the highest standards of cleanliness. I am reassured that they put the homeless guy in an ambulance with the Ebola patient and then promptly lost track of him. I think that’s a safety technique they’ll be teaching in that CDC class that starts today.
Was the homeless guy one of the 12? or the 18? or the 50? or the 80? or the 100? How about everyone he took money from for the past few days? Every business where he handed over money in exchange for fast food or beer?
All is foreseen, citizen. Do not trouble yourself with these questions.
UPDATE BY J.D.: Patterico indicates that the post is perfect except for the small fact that the times are all backwards, pretty much gutting the argument of the post. He will try to address this problem at lunchtime.
P.S. BY PATTERICO: Well, that was fun, wasn’t it? Now let’s analyze the situation with actual accurate times. The plane landed at 9:15 a.m. Pacific and the update to the LAT post was 4:56 Pacific. Put another way, the plane landed 12:15 p.m. Eastern and the post was updated at 7:56 Eastern. Either way you slice it, that’s under eight hours. In theory, then, that’s enough for a quick test — if a sample could be taken to a qualified lab and all other work could be put on hold. And assuming that the LAT was informed of the results and reported them immediately.
But there is still a problem. As DRJ points out in comments, the passengers were held for only 90 minutes before being released with a pat on the head and some “be careful” handouts. DRJ also raises even more questions about the nature of the tests available, where they could be done, and how quickly. Given the totality of what I know, I think the doctors just looked at the symptoms and reached their conclusion based on that.
Isn’t it wonderful to see DRJ?