We do not need to worry so much about Ebola in the US

I sat watching the 11 p.m. news as the Ebola patient from Dallas, Nina Pham, landed at the airport in Frederick, Md. She was on her way to the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Md. Frederick is a little more than an hour from my house. Bethesda is about 20 minutes from where my sister lives in Washington, D.C.

So Ebola is now brought to my doorstep. Yet I am not afraid to go the mall or a restaurant, or to shake hands in church. The influenza virus constitutes a greater danger. The flu leads to 20,000 deaths in this country each year.

The country seems to be having an anxiety attack over the Ebola virus, which is a little difficult to understand. There are, of course, legitimate and reasonable fears, but I feel the entire issue has been overblown, especially by the media.

Let's look at what we know.

Five Americans who contracted Ebola in Africa were brought to the United States. There was some controversy over allowing sick American citizens back into their own country for treatment. Yet all have been released or are doing well.

An African, Thomas Eric Duncan, flew to the United States and died in a Dallas hospital. The hospital clearly made some mistakes, and now two of the health care workers who cared for him have contracted Ebola. This is a real tragedy and generates serious concerns among health care workers. Every effort must be made to protect those who care for victims of Ebola.

Yet what is seldom mentioned is the fact that around 50 people who had contact with Duncan have been monitored for more than 21 days. None of them have become ill. Also, while it may be likely than one or two more health care workers at the Dallas hospital may yet contract Ebola, it seems that the vast majority of the workers who helped care for Duncan will escape illness.

This hardly seems the stuff of an epidemic. If I were a health care worker taking care of an Ebola patient, I would be anxious. I would not, however, be concerned with casual contact. Also, our track record of caring for patients in this country is quite good. One regrettable death has occurred, probably the result of unfortunate mistakes, but even these mistakes are providing us with new information that will likely serve to reduce the number of future mistakes.

The media have latched on to this story and have pushed it to the limit. Cable TV news outlets love the story. It gives them something to talk about 24/7. It is so easy to track down a doctor or public official to comment on the dangers of the disease. Even if someone speaks reasonably about the situation, the media can find something in what he or she says that can be used to give viewers an additional reason to be anxious.

Irresponsible politicians have added to the escalation of fear. Some are doing it out of a partisan motive. Others may see it as an opportunity to grab the limelight. An article in the Baltimore Sun provides some examples of less-than-rational claims that are being made.

There is an Ebola epidemic, but it is in West Africa. The best thing we can do to prevent an epidemic in the United States is to do all we can to contain the disease in Africa. It provides all of us an opportunity to do something that is not only in our own interest, but also allows us to reach out to show concern and care for others. The United States and many other countries need to step up to the plate to provide resources and financial support to those working so hard to help the victims in Africa.

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