Kelly Spencer, Copy Editor
If you’ve happened to use your eyes or ears in the last month, without a doubt you have heard of your oncoming death, currently traveling by plane from West Africa to JFK. But who is this quasi-grim reaper? Ebola, apparently…
Before we get into the mass hysteria surrounding this epidemic, it seems worth noting what the disease actually is. Ebola is a viral infection with many different strains. Symptoms of the disease are similar to that of the flu and can be deadly. Currently there is no cure and it is contagious, however, not to the mythical proportions most Americans assume. The disease is not airborne and requires direct contact with an infected person’s bodily fluids for transmission. So keep away from your friends’ blood and urine, doctor’s orders.
Ebola is not a new disease but there are only 2,418 reported diagnoses prior to the current outbreak. The Huffington Post reported that as of October 19, there had been 9,936 people infected with Ebola worldwide and 4,877 deaths. The outbreak began in West Africa and now inhabits nearly 10 countries. While there is no denying that this is a big deal on the world table, the conversation about the disease in the United States seems extremely misguided.
Out of the nearly 10,000 infected people, four are American. That’s right, about .04 percent. This number looks even smaller when compared to the statistics of some more familiar diseases in the United States.
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention has no positive number for yearly fatalities by the flu. But from 1976 to 2007, yearly flu deaths ranged from 3,000 to 49,000. That’s a huge range considering even 3,000 deaths by the flu seem exponential. The CDC also reports that roughly 50,000 people contract HIV each year in the United States, another disease without a cure.
Even the food we eat as Americans poses more of a risk to us than Ebola; the CDC website explains that “each year roughly one in six Americans (or 48 million people) get sick, 128,000 are hospitalized, and 3,000 die of foodborne illness.” This isn’t to say that Ebola couldn’t become just as large a threat as these other diseases, because it could and will if attitudes concerning treatment and prevention don’t change.
Fox News has named it the next “bioterrorist threat” and over 40 members of Congress sought out a travel ban against territories in West Africa. Most seem to see this as a step in the right direction as far as eradicating the already meager threat on the US. However Thomas Frieden, director of the CDC, disagrees.
“We don’t want to isolate parts of the world, or people who aren’t sick,” stated Frieden in an op-ed, “because that’s going to drive patients with Ebola underground, making it infinitely more difficult to address the outbreak.” Incentive for health aids to go abroad to provide treatment is dwindling due to fear of not being allowed to re-enter the country. Frieden believes that in order for Ebola to not become the next AIDS epidemic, routes for treatment need to be left open and the stigmatization of the disease by the media needs to stop. While there is hardly a threat in the United States, 20 people die daily in Sierra Leone. Quarantining these small countries from travel will not stop the spread of the disease, but it will further ruin their economies and public infrastructures.
Ignorance isn’t only affecting these small countries in West Africa, but Africa as a whole. The Los Angeles Times reported that the economy of Africa’s tourism is spiraling into oblivion as people cancel safari trips in places like Botswana, Tanzania and Kenya. The world seems to be forgetting that Africa is massive, larger than the whole of North America, and makes up 20 percent of the world’s entire land surface area. Out of the 54 sovereign states in Africa, five have had cases of Ebola during this outbreak, and the World Health Organization has recently declared two of those– Nigeria and Senegal– Ebola free. Paranoia shouldn’t be a reason to shut down an entire continent.
Ebola is a serious threat, but maybe not all that serious to us here in Oneonta. (There was a scare in Schenectady, but it turned out to be a sick woman who just happened to be from Liberia.) Efforts need to be focused on cure and prevention, not isolation and quarantine.