We got 99 problems, Ebola ain’t one
Outbreak in U.S. unlikely, focus must remain in affected countries
Ebola is a scary disease. Symptoms include fever, muscle pains and headaches, which then progresses into internal and external bleeding that eventually results in death. The current epidemic in West Africa is the largest in history — it has spread to several across the continent already and more than 7,000 people have been infected. The World Health Organization projects that unless serious action is taken, up to 1.4 million people could be infected by January.
But it’s certainly not something any of us need to be concerned about when it comes to our own health — the likelihood of an outbreak in the United States is slim to none.
Ebola is extremely deadly, but it is not extremely contagious. It is only spread through direct contact with bodily fluids, and it can only be spread from people who are already showing symptoms — not those who might just be harboring the virus. Unless the infected person’s bodily fluids (such as the liquids spread through coughing or sneezing, sweat, blood and semen) come into direct contact with an open wound or enter your body through an orifice, you can’t contract the virus. So it’s pretty safe to say that as college students here in New Jersey, we have nothing to worry about — right now, there is only one documented case of Ebola in the entire country, and health officials are already taking every possible precaution to keep it contained.
The recent news of the arrival of Ebola in the U.S. caused considerable alarm, since most people’s knowledge of the disease comes from the media. Media coverage of Ebola over the last few weeks has been sensationalized, to say the least. But the current epidemic in West Africa is dependent on a lot of factors that are relatively nonexistent here in the U.S. The broken public health infrastructure, extreme poverty and lack of awareness or education of proper sanitation practices in countries in African nations are what make it such a rampant and apparently uncontrollable issue. These countries simply are not equipped with the appropriate health care services to manage the ever-increasing cases of Ebola, and most families are forced to care for those infected with it themselves. This means they all have an extremely high risk of infection because of the close contact they are bound to have with the sick person’s bodily fluids.
For now, the media is doing what the media does best: It’s playing a major role in creating and perpetuating unnecessary panic about an issue instead of simply being informative. Despite the fact that the chances of contracting Ebola in America is virtually zero, if a vaccine for it were to be released tomorrow, most people would go out of their way to get it. But what about the infectious diseases that actually pose a great health risk for us here in America? Influenza kills nearly 50,000 Americans every year, but almost half of Americans skip the flu shot. Human papillomavirus kills 4,000 people every year, but many parents still refuse to give their children the HPV vaccine. We need to understand how infectious diseases work
While an outbreak of Ebola in the U.S. is highly unlikely, the reality of it in West Africa still exists and definitely requires our concern and attention. Instead of wasting our time, energy and resources fighting a nonexistent epidemic here, we need to be paying attention to those who are actually suffering from it on the other side of the world. Instead of pushing for a travel ban to and from these countries (which would severely hinder efforts to fight and contain the outbreak there) we should be donating to research efforts to find treatment and a cure. While we shouldn’t be worrying about contracting Ebola ourselves, we can’t just isolate ourselves from the rest of the world and ignore the epidemic either. Just because Ebola doesn’t affect us directly doesn’t mean we aren’t responsible for fighting it along with the rest of the world.