The Unfounded Ebola Hysteria in the U.S.

A handful of American diagnoses do not signal an epidemic.

screamYou are more likely to die from killer bees than contract the Ebola virus. Statistically, that is currently the case. As The Economist notes, an American’s chances of dying from wasp or bee stings in any given year are about 25,000,000-to-1. Right now, your odds of getting Ebola don’t even approach that.1

Here’s the math: There are 319 million people living in the United States. As this is being written, seven Americans have been diagnosed with Ebola; five of them acquired the disease while living or working in West Africa. Divide 319 million by 7 and you get 45,571,428.57. So one out of every 45.6 million Americans has been diagnosed with Ebola this year.2,3

On U.S. soil, Ebola has so far infected two Americans: 1 in 159.5 million U.S. residents. In comparison, your odds of being killed by an asteroid are 1 in 75 million. Your chances of seeing a sharknado may be greater.

Ebola is no laughing matter, but it is time for some perspective. A new Harvard School of Public Health poll finds that 40% of Americans think they are at risk of getting Ebola. Sixty percent of survey respondents believed they could likely contract the virus if an infected person sneezed or coughed on them; as Vanderbilt Medical Center’s respected infectious disease specialist Dr. William Schaffner recently noted, there is no known instance of Ebola being transmitted that way. At least 80% of those polled realized Ebola victims could be cured with the right medical care.4

On October 15, FOX News anchor Shepard Smith used a bit of air time to call for reason: “Being petrified, and that’s a quote, is ridiculous. The panic that has tanked the stock market and left people fearful that their children will get sick at school is counterproductive and lacks basis in fact or reason. There is no Ebola spreading in America. Should that change, our reporting will change.” He emphasized that an Ebola diagnosis of two Texas health care professionals who had been treating an Ebola victim does not logically constitute an “outbreak” of the disease in the United States.5

Here’s what we know about Ebola transmission: Ebola spreads via direct contact with those infected. “Direct contact” with an Ebola carrier is defined by the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention as a) immediate contact with the bodily fluids of that person, b) spending prolonged time within 3′ of said person without wearing protective gear (which could permit indirect contact with bodily fluids expelled from the person).3

Mistakes may have been made in Dallas, but the federal government is strengthening its efforts in screening, contact tracing, and care of Ebola patients. At this point, it seems far more likely that the Ebola diagnoses seen in the U.S. this year will be contained rarities rather than the start of a stateside epidemic.

Citations …
1) economist.com/blogs/graphicdetail/2013/02/daily-chart-7 [2/13]
2) census.gov/popclock/ [10/15/14]
3) nytimes.com/interactive/2014/07/31/world/africa/ebola-virus-outbreak-qa.html [10/15/14]
4) npr.org/2014/10/15/356451168/poll-40-percent-of-americans-feel-at-risk-for-getting-ebola [10/15/14]
5) thewrap.com/fox-news-shepard-smith-calls-ebola-hysteria-irresponsible-politically-motivated-video/ [10/15/14]

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