Are the Ebola deaths not significant?

You can’t really escape controversy when you state facts. I wrote that influenza was more of a threat to the United States and its residents than Ebola ever could. That kicked-off a discussion in which I was branded a liar and a bigot. You know that’s not the truth. I know that’s not the truth. Here’s why lived lost in any place of the world matter, but also why we can’t panic here in the States about what is going on in West Africa.

Almost as soon as I uploaded this graphic to Twitter, I stirred up some sort of controversy:

flu_v_ebolaNote 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.

 

  1. To add to the problems for ebola becoming epidemic here is the lack of an animal reservoir in the US for the virus.
    *Any* animal that would contract the virus would typically die, as they’ve never been exposed to the virus. Hence, the normal infection chain would not be forged.
    The only real risk if a violation of protocol, which could expose a health care worker. Protocol would then isolate that infected worker until the virus ran its course or the worker is shown to not be infected.
    The only way for ebola to become epidemic in the US is by magic.
    And let’s face it, magic doesn’t exist.

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    1. But plenty of people still believe in magic.

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      1. Well, there is a kind of magic in the world. The magic of holding one’s newborn baby for the first time, one’s wedding night, etc are all magical moments.
        In technology, I’ve known of PFM repairs, Pure F&%# Magic, when one opens the device and it starts working and no fault can be found. A maddening situation.
        But, the truest definition of magic I’ve found is technology so advanced as being indistinguishable from magic. But, we’re far from that level of technology. 🙂

        Of course, there is also the magic of numbers, with the darkest of the dark arts of mathematics being that of the dark art of statistics. 😉

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  2. I tried to make a point similar to yours using Measles statistics. Something like 122,000 people died, globally in 2012 from Measles. Ebola has killed roughly 2500 people total since 1976, none of which were in America. All that said, we still have folks that don’t vaccinate their children against Measles.

    http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs286/en/

    http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs103/en/

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