As of Oct. 15, Ebola has claimed the lives of 4,493 people out of an estimated 8,997 cases , The already weak health care infrastructures of the affected West African countries are crumbling under the ever-growing number of newly infected patients, and there seems to be no foreseeable date as to when the spread of Ebola may finally come under control. Adding to the uncertainty, broadcast reports detailing Ebola’s increasing dissemination across West Africa elicit scenes from “I Am Legend” and other zombie apocalypse films, which can seem pretty terrifying. Because of this, Americans are left wondering when the disease will make its way from the streets of Monrovia and Freetown to their own picket-fenced blocks. Though these concerns may seem legitimate for reasons of public health and safety, they are indeed farfetched, and frankly, completely egocentric.
Yes, there have been a handful of cases of the virus to date in the United States since March, when an outbreak of unidentified hemorrhagic fever in Guinea was identified as the Ebola virus. In August, two American missionaries working in Liberia contracted the disease while abroad, and were flown stateside under quarantine in order to receive treatment; both were released from the hospital at the end of the month after having been deemed disease-free. Drawing considerably more headlines was the infection of Liberian Thomas Eric Duncan, who contracted the virus in his home country before traveling to Dallas to visit family. Duncan began showing symptoms of Ebola in Dallas, and eventually died while undergoing treatment. Two nurses assigned to Duncan’s case subsequently contracted the disease while caring for the dying man, and have now been flown to centers in Atlanta and Maryland in order to receive treatment.
If these cases are exaggerated, then it could be said that Ebola has begun to spread within American borders. But in viewing the reality of the facts surrounding these cases, they are indeed isolated incidents. Health care workers treating Duncan only contracted the disease as they routinely came into contact with the man’s bodily fluids; contrary to popular conception, this is the only way to contract Ebola. Furthermore, the two cases of United States-originated Ebola pale in comparison to the number of cases of other, everyday diseases. Influenza and pneumonia, for example, though both completely treatable, combined are the eighth leading cause of death in the United States. There are definitely much more worrisome public health concerns in the United States than the slight chance of an Ebola outbreak.
Scientists, the President and even Fox News — whose viewership, according to a study from 2003, has been found to be positively correlated with political misconceptions — have tried to make this fact clear in an attempt to calm public unease. However, politicians are still posing query into the truth behind the few cases of infection in the United States.
At a hearing last Thursday, for example, the men and women of Congress interrogated Dr. Thomas Frieden, the director of the Centers for Disease Control, about how two health care workers could have been prone to infection given the nature of the quarantine under which Mr. Duncan was placed. The caliber and tone of the questions implied that they doubted claims that the disease isn’t contagious through airborne transmission.
The doubt under which experts in the medical field are being placed by our congressional leadership is toxic to the public’s views on this disease. Instead of listening to experts, taking advice and implementing preventative measures to ensure that Ebola — should its incidence rise in the United States — doesn’t get out of hand, congressional leaders are fueling ignorance and fear about the disease.
If patients are properly quarantined, provided intravenous fluids, monitored for proper levels of oxygen and blood pressure, and given enough time to develop the necessary antibodies, Ebola is relatively treatable; even in African countries where treatment options are scarce,those infected have still survived in an average of 50-percent of cases. The United States — with ready access to state-of-the-art medical equipment and money with which to fund further research for a cure — is more than capable of effectively handling this disease; the only reason why Ebola has spread with such voracity in West Africa is that these factors are lacking.
The conversation about the chance of an outbreak of Ebola in the United States is clogging social and conventional media with speculation instead of fact. Americans desperately need to see the bigger picture here: people are dying in Africa, not in the United States. Drawing attention away from this fact is completely immoral and selfish. Americans need to educate themselves on the disease instead of resorting to unfounded fears. Doing this will better equip us as a nation to aid those whom the disease is truly affecting: impoverished Africans without the resources to treat patients effectively.
Austin Davis can be reached at email@example.com.