Ebola: Maintaining a Perspective


As a rare disease, Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) easily elicits a fear of the unknown in people, creating panic and making it difficult to maintain a more rational perspective. First discovered in 1976, it has managed to send populations into panics ever since. To avoid this, it is important to keep some facts in mind. Consider the following:

This virus has been in the U.S. previously. In 1989 and 1990, it was found in its Reston form, which does not affect humans. In 1989 there were no cases among humans and in 1990, there were four cases of people forming antibodies but not getting sickIn 1996 the Reston virus was introduced again in a quarantine facility in Texas, still with no known cases. In Europe, the Reston virus was found in Italy in 1992, with no known human contraction. Reston surfaced in Russia in 1996 and again in 2004 due to laboratory contamination.

Also known as Ebola Fever, it is not an airborne virus. The virus can only be contracted by coming into contact with the blood or body fluids of an animal or person who is infected, as when attending to the care of an individual or burying someone who has the disease. Touching contaminated surfaces or needles may also transmit the virus. Since it is not readily transmittable, the risk to others in settings such as riding on public transportation, on the street or in hospitals is quite low. 

While it is true that there is no cure as of yet, scientists are getting close. Already, two people who have been treated with a new serum in Liberia before returning to the U.S. have shown improvement. Knowing and considering the facts can aid in maintaining a balanced perspective of most experiences, especially unfamiliar, potentially deadly diseases such as the Ebola virus.

As of August 1, 2014, the cumulative number of cases attributed to Ebola in the four countries of Sierra Leone, Guinea, Nigeria and Liberia stands at 1,603, including 887 deaths. This number of fatalities makes this outbreak the deadliest since the 1976 discovery of the virus. Malaria, by contrast, is transferred by mosquitos and kills approximately 600 times more people each year than Ebola. In 2012, an estimated 207 million cases of malaria resulted in an estimated 627,000 deaths (uncertainty range: 473,000 – 789,000).

The crucial cause of the panic seems to be the rarity of occurrences. Fear of the unfamiliar can often cause people to panic.   Another reason to maintain a rational perspective is the fact that one is far more likely to die of food poisoning or excess alcohol consumption. The CDC estimates that each year, roughly one in six Americans (or 48 million people) get sick, 128,000 are hospitalized and 3,000 die of food-borne diseases, with contaminated chicken and raw shellfish being the biggest culprits.

Consider also that the CDC reports that excessive alcohol use contributes to about 88,000 deaths each year in the U.S. alone. As such, excessive alcohol consumption is third, after tobacco and poor eating habits, in preventable causes of death in the U.S. Aside from familiar fatal injuries resulting from traffic accidents and violence, excess alcohol consumption can cause miscarriages and contribute to fatalities resulting from high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease and cancer, among others.

Maintaining a rational perspective when an unfamiliar event is occurring is easier with all the facts in hand, and this latest Ebola outbreak is no exception. Given the increasing proximity we all have to one another in an increasingly connected world, it is likely that there will outbreaks in the future. U.S. resources, medical and funeral practices, however, make an outbreak here highly unlikely.

By Dawn Lustig


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