It’s not that contagious
For the last couple of weeks, the terrible outbreaks of the Ebola virus have been all over the news. Especially since two victims, American health care workers in Africa, were brought back to the US for treatment.
Headlines such as “CDC issues highest level alert amid Ebola outbreak” and “Ebola called ‘clear and present danger'” stir fear in Americans. But if you read the entire articles (and not everyone takes time to do that), you discover the danger is limited to certain countries in Western Africa.
Still, that hasn’t stopped Donald Trump from tweeting his displeasure at allowing the infected doctor and nurse back into the country and demanding the borders be closed to stop the “plague” from spreading in the US. (That’s a well chosen, provocative image.)
Or anti-immigration activists from claiming illegal immigrants will bring Ebola with them across our southern border. (It’s of greater concern that the immigration crisis will see a rise in other more contagious diseases such as measles, tuberculosis and influenza.)
I was much more unnerved by the H1N1 (swine flu) pandemic of 2009. Luckily for most of us, that particular strain of flu turned out to be not particularly virulent or deadly, but many people still died or were made extremely ill by the airborne virus. And most were anxious to be vaccinated as soon as the vaccine became available.
Ebola is not an airborne virus—spread by coughing, sneezing or breathing—and therefore is not passed from person to person as easily as the flu, measles or the common cold. Like HIV or hepatitis C, Ebola is spread through contact with body fluids. Health care workers are at greatest risk, especially in third-world hospitals where universal precautions and modern sterilization techniques and equipment are not available.
The Science-Based Medicine blog has an informative post about Ebola and its potential to cause an outbreak in the US. The author wrote:
So, if patients are brought to the US (as one has already been as of this writing), it’s not as though American hospitals don’t have considerable experience with universal blood and bodily fluid precautions, and it’s not as though they don’t properly sterilize instruments and equipment between uses. In other words, there’s nothing unique about Ebola virus in terms of transmission. No one’s saying the risk is zero, but it’s incredibly low, the blatherings and bloviations of ignorant gasbags like Donald Trump on Twitter notwithstanding. [my emphasis]
It’s self limiting
The other important point about Ebola, and I learned this many years ago in a biology class, is that its virulence actually makes it less likely to spread widely. This makes Ebola what is called a “self-limiting” disease.
The natural course of the infection is very rapid, which means you get very sick very quickly after being infected. The mortality or death rate is also very high—90% without treatment and over 50% with treatment.
And when the infected person, the “host”, dies the virus dies, too; often before it can infect or move to another host.
Therefore, the spread of the disease is stopped. There have been many Ebola outbreaks in African nations over the years, and they all started and ended very suddenly.
Protect yourself from other communicable diseases
Ebola is a bad, bad virus, and the current outbreak in Africa is definitely worse than normal. A possible vaccine is being “fast-tracked” but is not yet available. And public health officials in those countries, with the help of the CDC and WHO, are attempting to improve health care protocols for equipment sterilization and patient isolation.
But I’m not frightened of an outbreak in any American city. As I stated earlier, I am more worried about other contagious and deadly diseases—measles, whooping cough, the flu, polio, etc. Please check out some of my other posts for more information on vaccination!
- Be informed—100 vaccination resources
- Adults need vaccinations, too!
- Outbreaks and vaccinations
- It’s time for your seasonal flu shot
- Back to school—Childhood vaccinations