The Ebola Alarm: will EBOLA infect ALL OF US ? version Feb 1, 2015: No

from @TheHighEye

Yes it concerns all of mankind. So forget about thinking it only concerns some people in Africa / all of Africa / not our high quality healthcare and treatment. It concerns every man, woman and child on this planet. Why ? Because it is viral with a very short doubling rate (exponential growth curves) and has been for years. And we are not sure there is anything we can do to slow it down or stop it.

Statistician and Med.Dr. Hans Rosling (@hansrosling on Twitter) of the Karolinska Institute in Sweden thinks we still can do something about it if we act quickly. Hear his radio interview on BBC World Service :

And see his explanation why we must act now to stop it: “This shows you why Ebola must be stopped now!” 

Just scaremongering and sensationalism misusing the viral nature of life-threatening news spreading on internet? Is the news viral (meme) instead of the disease? No. Our human society is global. ‘Nation state borders’ or airport tests are semi-permeable and leaky for travelers as well as news. So it concerns us all.

Seth Godin makes this point too in his excellent Blog: “WE have Ebola” see: 

So both Hans Rosling and Seth Godin are right about what they tell us about Ebola, but my point is that they both fail to get across to the general public what is so scary about it. The newspapers and the statisticians think that we know what a “doubling time of a month” means. Besides the idea that I get from the recent WHO data that it may be 10 (ten) days instead of 30 (thirty).

1. Some time ago I introduced the description of ‘Doubling Time’ as W( x) = y [days], since W is pronounced ‘Double You’. For instance dataflows in Internet can be characterized by W times.

2. Hans Rosling stated in the above interview W(new Ebola suspected cases brought in for analysis and treatment/week) = 30 days. That means in my exponential estimate:

* in October 2014 : 500 / week bought into hospitals

* in November 2014: 1000 / week

[ Actual: Update of TOTAL up to Nov 7 : 13,268 cases / 4,960 deaths,  see WHO Situation report update – 7 November 2014]

[ Actual: WHO: up to Nov 14: 14,413 cases/ 5,177 deaths]

[ Actual: WHO: up to Nov 26: 15,935 cases/ 5,635 deaths]

* in December: 2000 / week

[Actual: WHO: up to Dec. 10: 17,942 cases/ 6,388 deaths ]

[Actual: WHO: up t0 Dec. 17: 18,603 reported cases/ 6,915 reported deaths, so spreading seems to slow down, due to large efforts]

[Actual: WHO: up to Dec. 31: 20,206 reported cases/ 7,965 reported deaths ]

* in January 2015:  4000/week

[Actual: WHO: up to Jan. 11: 21,296 reported cases/ 8,429 deaths. So rate of infections is leveling off, due to the enormous efforts from all sides !!]

[ Actual WHO: up to Jan. 18: 21,724 reported cases/ 8,641 deaths.  Thanks to the enormous efforts from all over the world and the involved local populations and gov’ts, case incidence incidence has fallen. I hope that this alarm call blog may have helped to prevent a bigger disaster ]

* in February 2015:  8000/ week

* in March 2015: 16.000 /week

* in April 2015: 32.000 / week

* in June 2015: 64.000/week

* in July 2015: 128.000 / week brought into hospitals (?)

* in August 2015: 256.000 / week

* in September 2015 HALF A MILLION patients per week brought into hospitals, including the friendly hospital near YOU, half of them will die. And half of the patients will survive but will stay viral (no sex please) for at least a month. @leashless on Twitter suggests that those survivors are ideal candidates to give healthcare to the patients brought in.


Get the picture? Do you see it explode ? But then most people will ask: ‘when does the explosion start?’. Can we prevent the explosion just before the tipping point (takeoff point of the airplane, bend in the hockey stick curve, bushfire getting out of control) is past?

Rosling says the next few weeks are crucial if we want to prevent a worldwide infection. Sorry folks there IS NO TIPPING POINT. Unless there is done something about the virality = [1/W(ebola) = catchiness of the ebola Virus Disease; also expressed by the R0 factor*), the explosion has been happening from day one. There is no sudden upwards bend in the curve.

4. To see this lack of tipping point for yourself, please do the following. Take your smartphone (or calculator) and type in a 2 and multiply that with 2 = 4 right. Now hit the = button again and again. You will see 8, and then 16, 32, 64, 128, 256 now if that where infected people nobody would be alarmed by these low numbers. Now continue 512, 1024, 2.048, 4.096, 8.192, 16.384, 32.768, 65.536, 131.072, 262.144, 524.288, 1.048.576, 2.097.152, etc. Wow that goes up fast suddenly! In about 20 steps of doubling we are way past a million infected. Nine more doublings and we are way beyond a billion people. Three more and we reach 8 billion which is more than the present world population. So 29 + 3 = 32 steps of doubling and we are all dead.

The exponential curve plays tricks with our perception. At first the figures are small and growth is slow. So slow that we technies OVERestimate some new thing that just starts to be available and is sold by showing it to eachother. Like the Apple I Wozniak and Jobs constructed. Everybody who saw it wanted to buy one: it was viral ! But our brain is programmed to expect and extrapolate a growth line, not a curve which keeps bending upwards. As soon as the figures are above that imaginary “line” we suddenly act in disbelief. Marketeers and managers then UNDER-estimated the phenomenon. And they are too ate to do act or do anything about it. The rocket is launched!! So whenever you are confronted with something which grows exponential, do not look at the size, which is deceptive, look at the doubling time !!

5. So if the W(Ebola total number of infected people) = 30 days , the whole world population will be infected within  32 months :-(( And let us hope that half of mankind will survive the infection. And that does not even include a scenario where the virus mutates into something airborne.  The World Health Organization has now stated that without drastic measures the number of Ebola patients  will have grown, from the present (September) 1000 to about 10.000 in November. In 4 months, right (see above).

Probably they want to prevent wide scale panic in Africa by not showing the months after that. I did. And I sincerely hope that we will cooperate worldwide with all available resources and knowledge necessary to prevent a massacre. Not just Africa is fucked, we are ALL fucked unless we join forces against Ebola.

Jaap van Till, Connectivist

*) R0 for Ebola = ~2    R0 for Measles = ~18  When calculated from mathematical models, particularly ordinary differential equations, what is often claimed to be R0 is, in fact, simply a threshold, not the average number of secondary infections. There are many methods used to derive such a threshold from a mathematical model, but few of them always give the true value of R0. This is particularly problematic if there are intermediate vectors between hosts, such as malaria. See:

Ps1. Not very reassuring: Sneezing travels much further than was previously thought:

Ps2. To cheer you up further Mary Shelley, author of “Frankenstein”, wrote ” The Last Man” in 1825, about a huge pandemic in the then future:

[updated version: February 1, 2015]


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