Almost as soon as I uploaded this graphic to Twitter, I stirred up some sort of controversy:
Note the header of the graphic: “Which is the real threat to public health in America?” I’m being extremely specific on the geographic nature of the threat. The epidemiological data shows that Ebola is not a public health threat in America, yet influenza has and will continue to be a public health threat in America.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there are between 3,000 and 49,000 deaths in the United States from influenza each year, depending on how bad of a season it is. That’s just deaths. The number of actual cases and hospitalizations also varies. Then there are the secondary effects of influenza on the public, from having to stay home to take care of sick children to having to fill the positions at work sites of those who cannot go to work.
What about Ebola? What is its impact on the United States? None. Zero. Zip. Zilch. The two Americans that are coming back with Ebola are the only known cases of Ebola in the United States at this time. Further, there is very little chance that they will trigger off an epidemic of the size and scope of the one going on West Africa, for reasons that I’ve explained to you before. This is why it grinds my gears when I see the continuous nonsense on all sorts of media outlets (mainstream and social, mostly) about Ebola.
Now, does all this means that the deaths in the current Ebola outbreak in West Africa are meaningless — or should be meaningless — to us in America?
If you know me, then you know that I do not believe that to be the case. Deaths in any part of the world for any situation — especially those due to public health inequities or problems — are very, very important to me. Deaths in West Africa from Ebola are, thus, very, very important to me.
Further, the experience that responders of the outbreak are gaining is invaluable, and it can be translated to many other public health problems all over the world. They are learning to set up and run field hospitals, respond to concerns of the populations around them, etc. Their work is valuable and they must continue to do what they can to save people.
Again, the main gist of the graphic was to alleviate the concerns of people in America that Ebola is this big, huge existential threat to us. It’s not. And it won’t be. It’s just not designed to be the cause of a big, huge outbreak here because of infrastructure and culture. Influenza is, especially when people refuse to be vaccinated year after year, and when the infected are contagious one to two days before symptoms show. None of this takes away from the value and the respect that I — or any of us — should have for those who die though far away.
René F. Najera, DrPH
I'm a Doctor of Public Health, having studied at the Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health.
All opinions are my own and in no way represent anyone else or any of the organizations for which I work.
About History of Vaccines: I am the editor of the History of Vaccines site, a project of the College of Physicians of Philadelphia. Please read the About page on the site for more information.
About Epidemiological: I am the sole contributor to Epidemiological, my personal blog to discuss all sorts of issues. It also has an About page you should check out.