The recent outbreak of Ebola started in Guinea during December 2013 and has spread to six countries, including the United States. Its arrival in America has made a number of Americans nervous, with one in five people worried they could catch it.
Having a fear of the disease itself is legitimate. It’s a horrible virus that causes cells to explode and then infect other cells, eventually taking over the immune system and attacking every organ. Ebola leads to clotting and bleeding, which causes the body to develop sores and rashes. Victims can also bleed from the ears, eyes and nose before killing them with a combination of failing organs and blood loss after a day or two.
While it’s a terrifying thought to contract such a horrible disease, should you really be worried about it? If you take a closer look at some of the facts and figures surrounding the spread of the Ebola virus, you’ll find that the answer is a resounding no.
10. It’s Easy to Track
One of Ebola’s greatest weaknesses is that in order to spread globally it would have to be done via human-to-human contact. As a result, it’s a fairly easy disease to track, even on a global scale. For example, there’s a website called HealthMap that’s been tracking the spread of the disease since the outbreak.
Also, most people who have contracted the disease live in West Africa or were visiting for work. Others had direct contact with someone who caught the virus while in the area. All the current Ebola cases can be traced back to the West African outbreak. Since the disease follows a logical path and doesn’t appear out of nowhere, it makes it an incredibly easy disease to monitor.
9. Hyper Awareness
There’s no denying that the symptoms of Ebola are terrifying. However, in the grand scheme of things Ebola’s body count isn’t very high, with only 6,000 people dying from it since it emerged in 1976. That’s roughly the same number of people who die every day from respiratory infections.
One of the reasons the disease is common knowledge is the fact that it could infect anyone of any age or gender. However, that’s also one of its greatest weaknesses. When it comes to infectious disease, awareness is a large part of the battle.
According to journalist Randy Shilts, lack of awareness was one of the major reasons HIV spread during the 1980s. In his 1987 book, And the Band Played On, he points out that HIV spread in part because of a lack of government support and media attention, because the victims were often gay men or drug addicts. However, with Ebola making headlines almost everyday since the outbreak, it’s at the height of its awareness.
8. Airports are on High Alert
One of the biggest concerns about Ebola is the spread of the disease on a global level. After all, modern air travel makes it much easier for contagious diseases to spread beyond the local level.
However, there’s a good chance that won’t happen because United States officials have said there are going to be new screening measures that will check passengers’ temperatures and then hold them for questioning if officials are suspicious. Airports in Africa are also screening passengers flying out of the continent.
One worry is that someone who is not yet showing symptoms will board the plane and infect others. However, people only become infectious after displaying symptoms. If someone should break out in symptoms while on the flight, the Center for Disease Control has measures in place to ensure that the virus doesn’t escape into the general public.
7. Experts are Knowledgeable
If you take a look at other major outbreaks and plagues in history, one of the biggest problems was that people didn’t know how the diseases spread. But the World Health Organization is incredibly knowledgeable about Ebola.
While they’re not entirely confident about the exact origin of the disease, they’re pretty sure that it came from fruit bats. What they do know is that the first reported case of death from Ebola was in 1976 in Zaire, which is now the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Since then scientists have been studying the virus, and they understand how the disease works and what steps are needed to limit the spread.
And since they know how it works, they’re able to administer treatments that seem to be working. Simply treating the symptoms has aided in survival rates. Unfortunately, despite knowing a lot about the disease there’s still no cure. However, an experimental drug called brincidofovir has been approved by the FDA to be used in emergency cases.
6. It’s Not Always Fatal
One of the more frightening aspects of the disease is that, according to the media, it has a death rate of 90%. That number was calculated by dividing the number of known infections by the amount of people who died from it. However, the 90% figure was taken from an outbreak in the Democratic Republic of the Congo from 2002 to 2003, which was the deadliest outbreak ever.
The actual rate between 1976 and now is 60% to 65%. And for this outbreak, the number is closer to 54%. The 90% number was influenced by many factors that made treatment difficult, including poor access to medical care and the fact that a civil war was on-going.
5. Most Food Won’t Be Infected
Human aren’t the only ones affected by Ebola. Primates and other mammals can get the disease, most notably the fruit bat, which is a West African delicacy.
Scientists believe that fruit bats are “natural hosts” for the Ebola virus. Residents of West Africa will eat infected fruit bats or other animals, get sick and spread the virus to those around them. So the obvious question is whether or not that could happen elsewhere. The short answer is no, not likely. African bush meat generally isn’t consumed outside of Africa.
The only way food outside of Africa could become infected is if an infected person comes into contact with food or an animal meant for consumption and their blood, feces or urine gets on the food or in the animal. Both scenarios seem unlikely, and there are safeguards at many different levels to ensure that food isn’t messed with.
4. Ebola Can Be Fought
Do you know what the best resistance against Ebola is? Let’s say you touch someone or something owned by someone who has Ebola. Do you have to go into quarantine and hope for the best? Nope — all you have to do is wash your hands with soap or anti-bacterial hand gel.
Areas where outbreaks occur generally lack basic necessities like clean water and soap. So as long as you keep washing your hands, as you should anyway to avoid other illnesses, you shouldn’t have a problem.
3. Spread and Mortality Rates Vary on Location
An inevitable question is “If Ebola really isn’t a problem, then why is there an outbreak in the first place?”
Well, the answer is simple — it’s based on location. One of the main reasons there’s an Ebola outbreak in Africa and there won’t be in places like America is that Americans have easier access to soap and antibacterial gel. If you compare the mortality rate of Ebola in countries with known infections they change based on preparedness, as well as availability and quality of health care. For example, in Guinea the mortality rate is 73%, but in Sierra Leone it’s only 41%. If the disease were to appear in America, chances are it wouldn’t spread as the victims would be quickly quarantined and treated.
2. It Won’t Go Airborne
One of the biggest fears about Ebola is that it will go airborne, or will be transmitted through something like mosquito bites. However, Dr. Peter Piot, who was a co-discover of Ebola and is now the director of the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, says that it’s irresponsible for news organizations to even suggest that the Ebola virus could go airborne. No virus similar to Ebola has mutated so drastically, so quickly, ever. Piot, along with other experts, says that Ebola is not airborne, nor will it be in the future.
1. Almost No Chance of Catching It
There are only a few different ways you can catch Ebola, and the main one is exchanging bodily fluids. It’s mostly passed through blood, feces and vomit, although it has been detected in semen, breast milk and urine. In order to get the disease you have to come into close contact with an infected person and their fluids. The odds are that a massive majority of people outside of the outbreak won’t come into contact with an infected person. In fact, outside of Africa only 14 cases of Ebola are being treated as of September 2014.
The chance of you catching it is rare. One researcher says that the chances of someone outside the outbreak catching it are so incredibly small that the odds are almost non-existent. So relax, and get back to worrying about what foods are giving you cancer.