In the summer of 1981 I started reading Stephen King’s “The Stand”.  My boss had left it in my attendant’s shack at a parking lot on the corner of Ocean and Pine Avenues in Wildwood.  I didn’t get very far.  The book was scary and long.  As a sixteen-year-old at the beach, I had more fun things to think about.

Several years ago, I was talking to my elderly great aunt.  I had never known it but she told me that she had been born a twin.  She also said that her twin had died shortly after being born – a victim of the “flu”.  She said that lots of people died of the “flu” when she was young.

I later found out that my aunt had been born in 1918 and that, whether she knew it or not, the 1918 “flu” that killed her infant sister was probably the most devastating pandemic in history.  Some estimate the worldwide death toll at more than 100 million people.

Most are aware of the Ebola outbreaks in Africa.  Many are aware of the aid workers who have returned to this country and have been successfully treated. Many are probably also aware of the traveler to Texas (now deceased) who infected at least two healthcare workers there.  Probably few however are aware of Phillip Curran’s October 13, 2014 Princeton Packet article reporting that

NBC News chief medical editor and Princeton resident Nancy Snyderman and her entire news crew were put under mandatory quarantine by the state on Friday, the latest development after one of her cameramen came down with Ebola on assignment in Liberia.

Mr. Curran continued:

State health Commissioner Mary E. O’Dowd issued the quarantine Friday night after Ms. Snyderman was spotted Thursday in a car during a food run…in Hopewell.  She was supposed to be on a voluntary, self-confinement, officials said.

Ebola kills people.  It is contagious.  While panic is not desirable, neither is passivity in the face of such a threat.  It strains the imagination to understand why decision makers hesitate to act after such events as 9/11, the 2001 anthrax attacks and Hurricane Katrina.

Hopefully Ebola will be eradicated here and elsewhere soon.  Hoping won’t get it done though.  We cannot, like sixteen-year-olds, turn away when it’s scary or daunting.  Instead, consistent with the United Nations Global Ebola Response, we must press to

  1. stop the outbreak
  2. treat the infected
  3. ensure essential services
  4. preserve stability
  5. prevent further outbreaks

Otherwise, whether caused by nature or bioterrorism, we risk another 1918; a catastrophe that would far eclipse any in the recent past.