This past week, the Center for Disease Control confirmed the first diagnosis of Ebola within America. The individual's name is Thomas Eric Duncan, a Liberian national.
Not surprisingly, many Americans started freaking out. People fear what they don't understand, and Ebola is a foreign disease with no cure.
Moreover, there is evidence that other people were exposed to the disease by Duncan. Additionally, an American cameraman who was filming in Liberia just tested positive for Ebola.
All of this is definitely unsettling, and the detrimental impact Ebola is having in Africa is extremely disconcerting.
At the same time, it's important to keep things in perspective. Africa is being ravaged by Ebola, and that is what Americans should concentrate on for both humanitarian and practical reasons.
We need to offer our expertise and resources to help countries in West Africa address this epidemic. Fortunately, these efforts are already underway.
Editor's Note - Update As Of October 15, 2014:
On October 8, 2014, Thomas Eric Duncan died. Unfortunately, Duncan was not hospitalized immediately when he arrived in the United States, which definitely played a role in his death.
On September 26, Duncan went to a hospital in Dallas with symptoms of Ebola. He was not screened for the virus, however, and was sent home with antibiotics. According to relatives, he told staff that he had traveled from Liberia.
He returned to the hospital two days later in an ambulance and was isolated. On September 29, he was diagnosed with Ebola. Thus, Duncan did not receive treatment early enough.
Two nurses who treated Duncan have now been diagnosed with Ebola. Yet, much of this has to do with the fact that the proper protocols were not followed, and the nurses were not wearing the correct protective gear.
Fortunately, the first nurse diagnosed is in good condition at the same Dallas hospital where she works, and says she is "doing well." Information on the second nurse is still developing, she is currently in isolation.
The second nurse took a flight the day before she was diagnosed, prompting fears that she might have spread it on the airplane. Due to the fact that Ebola is fairly difficult to spread, and as her fever was quite low at the time of her flight, she wouldn't have been very contagious while traveling. All the same, the CDC is asking the 132 passengers on the flight to call 1 800-CDC INFO (1 800 232-4636). (Frontier Airlines Flight 1143 Cleveland to Dallas/Fort Worth)
Moreover, despite these developments, the CDC is still confident that it can prevent an outbreak in the United States. Likewise, it's important to remember that the best way to prevent an outbreak is by quelling the current epidemic in West Africa, the source of the crisis. It would be wrong to belittle the impact of this disease, but it's important we understand where it's coming from and how we can respond effectively.
Here are nine reasons why you shouldn't buy into the hype.
1. America has the infrastructure and technology to contain an outbreak.
Part of the reason Ebola has spread so rapidly in Africa is due to poor infrastructure and a lack of resources. Accordingly, an Ebola outbreak in the United States is very unlikely.
The quality of America's medical facilities and equipment means that it has the capacity to contain the disease. Likewise, CDC Director Thomas Frieden stated, "I have no doubt that we will control this case of Ebola so that it does not spread widely in this country."
2. It's actually pretty difficult to get infected.
In order to contract Ebola, you have to come in contact with the bodily fluids of someone with symptoms the disease. If a hospital is adhering to proper infection-control procedures, then Ebola is highly unlikely to spread.
Indeed, the common cold is more contagious. Wash your hands.
3. Contracting Ebola doesn't lead to automatic death. You can beat it.
Ebola doesn't always kill those who contract it. In terms of the current outbreak in West Africa, it has killed about 70 percent of those who have become infected.**
Those who survive can return to full strength and are not at risk of infecting other people in the future. Quality medical care, which is available in the United States, can help people survive.
**Dr. Kent Brantly contracted Ebola while he was treating patients in Liberia. He ultimately survived.
Now, it is believed that his blood, and the blood of other survivors, can help infected patients recover.
Experimental drugs are one possible way to treat Ebola. These drugs have shown signs of success with Ashoka Mukpo, an American cameraman being treated in Nebraska. Mukpo has also received a blood transfusion from Dr. Brantly. He recently tweeted that he's "on the road to good health." Hence, there are ways to combat this disease.**
4. **Ebola has a high death rate, but doesn't kill as many people as other infectious diseases.**
There are a number of other diseases that kill more people than Ebola. In the United States for example, heart disease is the leading cause of death. **It's true that heart disease is not an infectious disease, but it is still killing an alarming number of people and merits immediate attention.**
In Africa, malaria and HIV/AIDs, among other illnesses, are still killing decidedly more people than Ebola.
Not to mention, millions of Africans don't have access to clean water, which causes a great number of deaths from a number of preventable water-related diseases.
**Ebola does have a very high death rate, but other diseases still kill more people. This is primarily because Ebola isn't as contagious as these other diseases.
Correspondingly, as the limited health resources in West Africa go to Ebola, more people are going to die from other infectious diseases, such as malaria. The point is, we can't view Ebola as the only health problem in the world, particularly when it comes to Africa.**
5. Ebola is not airborne.
Unlike the common cold, influenza and measles, for example, Ebola is not airborne, meaning it's not transmitted through the air.
As noted above, it spreads through bodily fluids. You can safely sit in the same room as someone with Ebola and not contract it. If an infected individual vomits or sneezes on you, that's a different story.
The fact of the matter is, however, that Ebola is not nearly as contagious as some people might believe.
**It's also very difficult to contract Ebola on a flight, even if there is an infected passenger on the plane. Unless another passenger infected with Ebola vomits or bleeds on you, for example, you're unlikely to contract it. Experts also believe that Ebola is unlikely to mutate and become airborne. Likewise, coughing and sneezing are not typical symptoms of Ebola, thus, it is unlikely to spread through droplets in this manner.
Ebola has an incubation period of around two to 21 days. Infected individuals are contagious when symptoms start to show.**
6. This isn't the first outbreak of Ebola, it's containable.
There have been a number of Ebola outbreaks in Africa in the past, but they have always been contained.
The reason this one is so notable is that it's the deadliest one yet. However, it's not something that can't ultimately be contained and controlled, it will just take time.
7. Ebola has spread in Africa because of politics and culture, not because it's impossible to contain.
Many of the countries impacted by the current Ebola outbreak have never seen the disease before, so their knowledge of it is limited. This makes it more difficult to address.
Many people in West Africa also don't trust their governments, making it hard to coordinate a response.
Moreover, in contrast to the United States, healthcare officials in West Africa are sometimes met with suspicion or violence. Likewise, burial practices in the region involve rituals that foster the spread of the disease.
Simply put, there are ways to contain the disease, but culture in West Africa often prevents this.
8. America has bigger health issues to concentrate on.
Before Americans freak out over Ebola, they should realize that there are a number of other major health issues that require imminent attention as well.
In 2011, for example, 50,000 people died from flu-related problems. Yet, to offer some perspective, only one person has died from Ebola within the United States as of October 8.*
9. It's a distraction from all of the good things happening around you.
Ebola is definitely a problem that needs to be addressed, but that shouldn't distract people from the positive things happening around them. In fact, one might argue that this is the greatest time in history to be alive.
Despite the struggles before us, good things happen every day too, remember that.
Watch this explanation of why you shouldn't pay attention to the media hype over Ebola:
**Editor's Note: This article has been updated to keep facts current, anything that has been altered is denoted by asterisks.**
Photo Courtesy: World Health Organization