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The Bleeding Edge

"Ebola panic" at TV news divisions? Not quite:

Infected NBC News freelance cameraman Ashoka Mukpo has been quarantined and is receiving treatment at Nebraska Medical Center, one of four hospitals in the U.S. with biocontainment units and the specialty training to care for Ebola patients. And while Mukpo is improving, Dr. Nancy Snyderman — NBC News' chief medical editor, who worked briefly with Mukpo in Liberia — recently made headlines for breaking a voluntary quarantine to go on a take-out food run near her home in Princeton, New Jersey. NBC Nightly News anchor Brian Williams read a prepared statement from Snyderman apologizing for the lapse on the Oct. 13 broadcast. But the infection of a nurse at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital in Dallas who was treating Liberian Ebola patient Thomas Eric Duncan, who died Oct. 8, has spurred a new wave of panic.

ABC News chief health and medical editor Dr. Richard Besser, an infectious disease specialist and the acting director of the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) during the similarly sensationalized swine flu outbreak in 2009, tells THR that he understands the widespread fear. “But the big misconception about Ebola is that there's risk to people in America. And that's just not the case.”

I don't expect an Outbreak scenario. Nobody is going to have to nuke Dallas. Hemorrhagic fevers are so nasty that outbreaks burn themselves out before they can become pandemics. The only reason so many have died in Africa is the tragic irony that the part of the world least able to cope with an outbreak is also the part of the world the virus calls home.

Wait -- did I say "tragic irony"? That sounds more like a tragic necessity; a virus will always make its home in the best possible host.

For all those reasons, ebola just isn't something I spend much time worrying about.

But an American has died. Here, in America. And it seems likely more Americans may die. Here, in America. They'll die from a non-native disease, which is fairly easy to contain, in a country with most of the world's advanced medical facilities, and almost endless resources to throw at the problem.

The problem then is political. We have a White House in denial, or perhaps just not very interested in dealing with such a trifling matter of actual governance when there's an election on. Our Centers for Disease Control spends more and more of its limited resources studying lesbian obesity or why people still laugh at Seinfeld, rather than controlling disease. We live in a new Progressive Age when politics trumps policy.

Thomas Eric Duncan didn't die because of racism. He died because he did a noble, foolish thing, and contracted a disease which kills over half of its victims. Two Texas nurses contracted the disease because Washington foolishly continued -- continues! -- to allow flights in from ebola-infected countries. And because the CDC and their own hospitals failed in their primary tasks of following established containment protocols. Commonsense measures like quarantine and proper hospital protocols have been ditched in favor of deadly PC soft-think.

That's what worries me, and should worry you.