On Tuesday, officials from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) confirmed that an Ebola case has been diagnosed in the U.S., after an individual who recently flew here from Liberia started to display symptoms once he landed in Dallas. It’s the first time the virus has been diagnosed outside of Western Africa, where it’s killed more than 3,000 people, and the news has sparked some concern about the deadly virus spreading within our borders.
But health experts have been clear about the fact that there’s virtually no risk of Ebola spreading widely throughout the this country. “I have no doubt that we’ll stop this in its tracks in the U.S.,” CDC director Thomas Friedan said at Tuesday’s press conference.
It’s true that the current Ebola outbreak is ravaging countries like Liberia and Sierra Leone, and it’s true that the international community is worried about being able to contain it in those impoverished regions with weak health care infrastructures. Ebola is a very serious problem for Western Africa, and it was only a matter of time before someone exposed to the virus got on a plane to the United States. But there are a couple reasons why the epidemic won’t have the same deadly impact on U.S. soil.
First of all, the United States has the resources it needs to effectively be able to contain the virus. Our sophisticated hospital system can easily isolate patients so they don’t spread Ebola to other people, and medical experts have been preparing for weeks for an eventual diagnosis in the U.S. The epidemiologist at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital in Dallas, where the infected patient is currently being treated, told press that the staff has “had a plan in place for some time now for a patient presenting with possible Ebola” and is “well prepared to care for this patient.”
On top of that, Ebola isn’t actually that easy to catch. While it is a communicable disease — which is what makes it sound scary to most people — it can only be spread through direct contact with an infected person’s bodily fluids. And it’s only contagious once a sick person starts displaying symptoms, which include vomiting and diarrhea. So you can’t get Ebola by standing next to someone who coughs or breathes on you — and you can’t catch it from a seemingly healthy person sitting near you on a plane.
That’s why, although the CDC will continue to monitor the handful of people who may have come into close contact with the Dallas patient, they’re not worried about the other passengers who were on his recent flight from Liberia. There’s essentially no chance that Ebola spread to any of them.
We already have evidence that Ebola can be stopped. In Nigeria, which is home to a sophisticated emergency medical center financed by Bill and Melinda Gates, the government has effectively been able to contain the outbreak. Nigeria enjoys many of the same advantages over the countries that are still experiencing the brunt of the disease, like a greater number of highly trained doctors, as the United States does.
Despite all of the evidence that Americans don’t need to be worried about Ebola here at home, however, it’s clear that many people aren’t listening. According to a recent poll conducted by Harvard researchers, about 40 percent of Americans believe there will be a widespread Ebola outbreak on U.S. soil within the next year, and a quarter of them are worried that someone in their immediate family will catch the virus. The researchers who did that polling concluded that the media needs to do a better job of emphasizing exactly how Ebola is spread, noting that pop culture may play a role in exacerbating people’s fears of pandemics.
The issue is perhaps complicated further by the fact that Ebola truly is a devastating tragedy for the people living in Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea, where the public health outbreak is descending into an economic crisis. The U.S. military is ramping up its operations in Liberia, but the international community is still struggling to do enough to respond. It’s difficult for the media to emphasize the severity of the issue in Western Africa while effectively diffusing concerns about Ebola’s impact on developed nations.