Mandatory quarantines were ordered for workers returning from West Africa to New York and New Jersey last week after a doctor in New York City tested positive for the deadly Ebola virus, the outbreak of which has already claimed the lives of more than 5,000 people in West Africa.
In the United States, however, there have only been a handful of reported cases of Ebola, so why are people panicking? The outbreak of Ebola is tragic, and needs to be treated as a public health emergency that’s in need of a massive coordinated global health response, but that doesn’t mean people in the United States have anything to fear.
The perceived threat that Ebola poses to the American people is highly exaggerated, and is fueled by a misunderstanding of risk. The risk of contracting Ebola in the United States is miniscule and the risk of the virus reaching epidemic proportions is even smaller. According to The Week, it’s actually measles that poses a real threat to the American people, not Ebola.
There have been more measles cases reported in the United States this year than any other year in the past two decades, according to a report from The New England Journal of Medicine. This is despite that fact that indigenous circulation of measles virus was declared eliminated in the United States in 2000 and in the Americas in 2002.
Whereas Ebola is spread through contact with infected body fluids, measles is spread by respiratory secretions, making it far more contagious. Even worse is that fact that a person who has contracted measles is infectious for several days before they begin showing symptoms, whereas people with Ebola only become infectious after they begin showing symptoms.
As horrible as the 5,000+ deaths attributed to Ebola are, an estimated 122,000 people, most of whom were children, died of measles back in 2012, or about 330 every day. This number is rapidly increasing in the United States and will continue to grow if something isn’t done to stop it. Measles poses a far more real threat to the American people than Ebola.