Officials stressed the Ebola epidemic in Africa was going to be contained. Then it mushroomed to the worst Ebola outbreak in history and jumped an ocean, as a Liberian man named Thomas E. Duncan brought the disease to Texas. It’s clear the United States has already messed up several times in the fight against Ebola. There will probably be blunders in coming weeks, too.
Of course, a mass Ebola outbreak in the United States never materialized. But a major measles outbreak is already here. And it’s only going to get worse. “We have had, in two and a half weeks, as many cases [in California] as we had in all of last year,” Dr. Gil Chavez, state epidemiologist for California, said on Wednesday. “From this particular outbreak, we can expect to see additional cases.”
The Ebola outbreak has killed nearly 5,000 people in West Africa, but only a handful of cases have been reported in the United States. Still, the virus has sparked widespread fear in the U.S. Views that Ebola is an exotic disease spreading out of control within Africa, with horrific symptoms, inevitable death, and limited means to prevent transmission are contributing to this fear. However, these fears are fueled by a misunderstanding of risk.
The outbreak is a tragic, public health emergency in urgent need of a massive and coordinated global health response. Fear of contagion is justified in communities where incidence is increasing and where protective measures are limited and health care is stretched beyond capacity.
However, this is not the case in the United States. The perceived risk to Americans is exaggerated. The risk of contracting Ebola in the U.S. or the virus reaching epidemic proportions is very, very low.
The fact is, in the United States the risk of infection with measles virus or death from influenza virus is far greater… (read more)