We’ve heard it in the news. First, there was fear of Ebola reaching the US, then two infected doctors were brought to the US under quarantine, then a traveler from Africa developed symptoms after arriving in the US, and now one of his nurses has contracted the disease.
Are we facing the next great plague? Absolutely not.
When people think epidemic, they tend to think of the Black Death (bubonic plague), which killed 25 million people over three years in the 14th century, and the Spanish flu, which killed 50 to 100 million people between 1918 and 1920.
The flu is airborne and, thus, highly contagious. It also struck a worldwide population significantly weakened by the resource shortages of World War I. It killed about 3% of the world population.
Ebola is not airborne. Instead, it is contracted via contact with bodily fluids, including things contaminated with bodily fluids.
The Black Death, however, was not airborne. It was spread by fleas at a time when fleas were everywhere. These particular fleas really liked rats, and rats were everywhere as well. Even royal homes had rats and fleas. When’s the last time you’ve seen a rat?
Incidentally, about 1000 people still die of bubonic plague every year in Asia, and there are handful of cases in the American southwest every year, where the disease has become endemic among some populations of burrowing animals. So, technically speaking, plague continues to be a bigger danger to Americans than Ebola.
I mean, since you’re making the comparison.
This is the worst outbreak of Ebola ever. You can’t deny that! Absolutely true. So far, there have been over 6500 infections and 3000 deaths, which is by far the most widespread Ebola incident. But the outbreak is in Africa, more specifically west Africa, where countries like Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia have all been dealing with political disruption (on a civil war level) for years. They don’t have anything close to the resources the US can muster. Their health systems are weak to say the least. They are also being overwhelmed with cases, which is why humanitarian aid workers from the US and other countries have been traveling to Africa to assist .(World Health Organization, Ebola virus disease)
Moreover, a widespread funeral tradition in Africa is that family members wash and prepare the bodies of the deceased. Despite urgent warnings to forgo such practices, it has been difficult to limit it, thus furthering spread the disease.
Now there are cases in the US! Yup. A total of eight, five of which contracted it in Africa and were basically brought back wrapped in plastic.
But those aid workers can infect others! And yet, they haven’t, because we know how to contain Ebola.
There’s dozens of people quarantined in Texas! Yes, because that’s precisely how you keep a disease from spreading. None of those people have symptoms of Ebola. This is just a precaution in case they do develop symptoms, which they probably won’t.
Its incredibly deadly! Absolutely true. If you catch it, you’re in big trouble: about half of patients die, about the same fatality rate as bubonic plague. The issue here is how likely any person is to contract the disease. And remember that HIV is 100% fatal, it just takes longer to kill you, and we’re no longer freaking out about that.
What We Can and Cannot Control
Disease scares us because of the illusion we cannot control it, and to some extent that is true. No matter how many times you wash your hands and stay away from obviously sick people, you still have the chance of catching all sorts of things, everything from a cold to chicken pox to the flu.
But Ebola doesn’t invisibly strike. While it has an incubation period of up to three weeks, the carrier isn’t contagious until symptoms start to show. Now, early symptoms can certainly look like a more common ailment like the flu, but you can’t catch it from someone who looks perfectly healthy.
Moreover, there’s all sorts of things that kill us that many of us do nothing about. We know the dangers of tobacco, yet still people smoke. We know obesity leads to all sorts of medical problems, yet one-third of Americans are obese, and many do nothing about it. We get behind the wheel when drunk. We have casual, unprotected sex.
Yet, OMG, Ebola is the end of the world. Get the hermetically sealed bunkers ready.
And the conspiracy nuts have certainly come out in force. Among the claims:
- Big Pharma engineered this oncoming epidemic, as proven by the fact this happened just as an experimental treatment has been created.
- It will eventually mutate into an airborne disease (you can’t predict mutation)
- It will be used as an excuse to imprison healthy American (yes, we call that quarantine. It’s temporary, it’s limited, and that’s just how keeping people healthy works)
And always my personal favorite: Obama did it. There’s lots of reasons why:
- To start a civil war
- To redistribute wealth
- To control the economy
- To control individuals
- To bankrupt us
- To prove to us we’re not exceptional
- To level the playing field
- To assist in terrorism
And the absolutely, positively best reason: it will lead to declaration of martial law, in which everyone’s guns will be confiscated, media will be blacked out, and Obama can cancel the 2016 elections.
That’s right, folks. Ebola will single-handedly destroy the US Constitution.