According to a new report from ABC News, the recent Ebola fears over an imminent epidemic of the “deadly, merciless disease” are overblown. Though the disease is indeed a deadly threat, the fears spawned by the recent outbreak with an Ebola-infected patient being brought to the United States need to be put into context.
AIDS — Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome — accounts for over a million deaths in Africa each year, and that’s more than a thousand times the number of deaths caused by Ebola. Pneumonia and other lung diseases are the number two killer in Africa, followed by malaria and diarrhea. While in the United States, the chance of contracting Ebola is close to zero. Here, cancer and heart disease are the number one and two causes of death. The report stated that Americans worried about contracting Ebola would do better to worry about getting a flu shot, as influenza claims over 24,000 fatalities each year.
True, Ebola is a horrific disease. There is currently no cure for Ebola hemorrhagic fever. More than half of the people involved in the current Ebola outbreak have died, and death rates in past outbreaks have reached over 90 percent. Those that contract Ebola grow feverish, experience extreme body aches, suffer internal bleeding, vomiting, diarrhea, and often bleed from the nose and ears. Most fatalities to Ebola occur in a matter of days once symptoms appear. Where the disease is most prevalent in Africa, there’s already a shortage of nurses and doctors. Since Ebola is contracted through direct contact of bodily fluids, those medical personnel are at the greatest risk. Because of all of these facts, Ebola outbreaks — even the mere mention of the disease — often spark extreme fear and panic.
Ebola originally sprouted up in 1976. It has been reported in 10 African nations, but the most recent outbreak in Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone are the first time Ebola has occurred in Western Africa. A traveler then brought the disease to Nigeria which led to the occurrence of a few cases in the large city of Lagos.
However, despite all this, World Health Organization officials remind people that it’s fairly difficult to transmit Ebola. Again, the disease requires direct contact with infected bodily fluids to spread. Airborne illnesses like influenza and the common cold are much, much more contagious. Most cases of Ebola spreading have come from family members caring for infected individuals, or the handling an infected body as part of burial practices. Ebola victims are not contagious until they show symptoms of the disease, even though those symptoms may not appear for up to 21 days after infection.
Dr. Robert Black, professor of international health at John Hopkins University, said:
“People should not be afraid of casual exposure on a subway or on an airplane.”
Health officials around the world know how to stop Ebola outbreaks. They know how to identify Ebola, they know to identify and isolate all possible patients and enforce strict infection-control protocol for sick patients.
According to The Wall Street Journal, Tom Frieden, director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, told a congressional hearing on Thursday:
“We’re confident that a large Ebola outbreak in the United States will not occur.”
[Image via SBS]