By TNH Editorial Staff
Underneath the politically saturated television, endless exams and pumpkin-themed everything, the people of the United States have one thing on their mind: Ebola. Or at least that’s the way it seems judging from the mass amount of media it has drawn over the past week.
For those who might have missed it, a man recently returned to Dallas, Texas, from West Africa exhibiting no symptoms of the virus. Within the 21-day incubation period, he not only showed symptoms, but was also sent home from a Dallas emergency room. He returned the next day, and was diagnosed soon thereafter.
First reports indicated that the man, Thomas Erin Duncan, had not been in contact with any such person while symptomatic. The statement was later retracted as he had not reported his contact on his exit documents from Liberia. During his time between arriving back in the United States and being diagnosed, it was announced that he had also been at a school. Now more than 15 school-aged children are under observation.
The fact is, according to an expert combating the virus in Liberia, you only need 1-10 particles of the Ebola virus to become infected, and a droplet of saliva contains up to 500,000 particles.
Germaphobes and mysophobiacs alike have full right to be concerned and worried. While there is a known cure to the virus, it has killed over 3,000 people in Western Africa.
But here’s the flip side: Paranoia can cause mass psychogenic illness (the disease when a lot of people think they have a disease so much that they show placebo symptoms) and can become far worse in terms of chaos and disorganization.
Furthermore, the way the Ebola virus works, it isn’t as problematic for the United States as one may believe: It is spread through bodily fluids. In West Africa, hospitals and clinics don’t have the facilities to accommodate the sick, and those infected are dying in their feces and vomit or are being found alone in their home. Those who clean up their bodies, or clean up the “messes,” are therefore susceptible to the illnesses.
Here, each case has been carefully isolated, the patient isolated and taken care for until their status was evaluated as: Ebola eradicated.
But for the United States, and the UNH community, there is a far more pressing “epidemic” that kills thousands every year: the flu. According to the Centers for Disease Control, in 2004 the flu killed 48,000 people in the U.S. during an especially strong outbreak.
Flu vaccines are free through Health Services during the annual “Free Flu Shot Clinic,” or are available inexpensively in many clinics and hospitals.
The key with vaccines is that they work best when large groups of people are vaccinated, known as herd vaccines. So when a large number of people refuse to receive it, those vaccinated are also put at risk. According to VOX Media, the vaccination is estimated to be 61 percent successful at preventing the flu virus. Less people vaccinated, the easier it is for the flu to infect large populations.
Back in West Africa, the same sort of thing is happening.
Lenny Bernstein of The Washington Post went to see the epidemic first-hand in Liberia. He spoke of Liberians who went about their daily life: riding on possibly infected public transportation, standing body-to-body in line for food supplies and greeting one another with handshakes and hugs. They have lives to live and cannot simply avoid everything and everyone because of an outbreak. Some wear plastic bags on their hands and feet to aid in protection; some are scrupulous in their application of a chlorine-water, virus-killing solution to their skin.
So as you look at Ebola’s developing situation, remind yourselves of the annual epidemic that hits us at here at home.