Ebola: Are We Doing Enough?


Ebola seems to be the hot topic in the news right now; every night anchors remind us of the outbreak in West Africa, and every night there seems to be suspicion of the infection spreading to another country. With this constant exposure, it’s easy to become complacent and begin thinking of the outbreak as an issue that’s taking place far away from where we live, effecting people we will never meet.ebola cnn

Since the outbreak began, roughly estimated to be December of 2013, there have been about 8,400confirmed cases, resulting in about 4,000 known deaths. However, recent studies put the actual number of cases as high as 20,000. While these numbers are quite concerning, they seem to pale in comparison to, say, the total population of the US, which is about 316 million.

What’s 20,000 compared to 316 million? This is a dangerous and frankly irresponsible way of rationalizing the issue. The countries at the center of the outbreak – Guinea, Sierra Leone, and Liberia – are not filled with densely populated urban areas like we see in the US. The majority of cases have been transmitted in relatively rural areas, often times being passed when loved ones come into contact with the dead. If introduced into a major population zone, such as New York City, such a virus could potentially spread very quickly.

The most concerning aspect of the breakout is the reported fatality rate of 50 percent, with the newest World Health Organization estimates now saying as high as 70 percent.

Compare this to the famous 1918 Spanish Flu pandemic; it is estimated to have killed three to six percent of the world’s population – estimated at 50-100 million deaths – with a fatality rate only between 10 and 20 percent.

Skeptics will in turn point to two major areas of detraction: they will claim the US is far more capable of containing such an outbreak and will remind everyone Ebola is not an airborne virus. While both are true, this does not mean there is no cause for concern.

Thomas Duncan, the man who came to Texas while infected with Ebola, told nurses at the hospital he visited he had come from Liberia, and was found to have a temperature of 103 degrees. Shockingly, this man was sent home. Even more surprising, his home and the people he had been in contact with were not quarantined until four days after he had been placed in isolation.

As for the infectivity of the virus, no, it is not as contagious as an airborne illness. However, this does not mean it is nearly impossible to transmit. After all, HIV/AIDS main method of infection is sexually, and in 2013 it was estimated by the World Health Organization that there are 35 million people worldwide currently living with HIV.

Because medicine has advanced substantially since 1918, it is unlikely the world will see another disease on the scale of the Spanish Flu; still, this does not mean Ebola should be overlooked or underestimated in any way.

As mentioned earlier in this article, it is estimated between 50-70 percent of those infected with Ebola do not survive. With this being said, the US response has been questionable at best. Not only was a man who already admitted to travelling from West Africa sent home with a fever over 100 degrees, but after his case of Ebola was confirmed days passed before any action was taken to quarantine others he may have infected.

This is a country that prides itself on being world leaders at the peak of preparedness and innovation; if this is true, why was this man sent home and why was there such a delay before authorities went to his home? Even when authorities did finally take action, there seemed to be confusion over who was in charge and what the proper course of action would be.

In an age of natural disasters, biological warfare, and nuclear weapons, there was honestly no plan of action in place for such an event? Screenings at airports such as JFK did not even begin until Oct. 11, although the outbreak has been raging for months.

Even at the center of the outbreak the US seems to be late to the party. Now that the CDC has projected the number of Ebola cases to double every twenty days, the US has pledged 100 million in aid to the region. While this is a significant amount of money and will surely help to contain the epidemic, one must also put this figure in context.

The US sent out 48.4 billion dollars in international aid in 2012’s fiscal year – meaning 100 million is a mere 0.002 percent of the foreign aid budget. Additionally, the CDC believes that the number of daily cases reported expected triple for every month the aid is delayed.

The US is the world’s premier superpower and feeds off its own talk of leadership and prestige; if this country is really the leader it claims to be, why have we waited so long to take action? Why were we not better prepared to handle a case on our own soil? Would we really be ready should Ebola arrive in full-force in the US? Are we really taking this seriously