Reframing the Ebola outbreak

Nicholas Pfosi / The Tufts Daily

Boston joined the Ebola panic this week, as a man checked into Harvard Vanguard Medical Associates on Sunday with symptoms of Ebola. The man had recently returned from Liberia and complained of head and muscle aches, but after being transferred to Beth Israel Hospital in Boston he was determined not to have the disease. 

News surrounding the potential Ebola exposures in the Boston area should not incite panic. Thomas R. Frieden, director of the Center for Disease Control (CDC), believes that there is very little chance of contracting Ebola in the United States because Ebola is not contagious during its incubation period of eight to 10 days, although it sometimes lasts up to 21 days. Contracting Ebola also requires direct contact — specifically having fluids from an infected person splashed or sprayed into one’s eyes, mouth, nose or cuts in the skin.

It is still important to treat potential cases of Ebola with caution, however. Hospitals need to enforce strict policies on handling potential Ebola cases. In the case of Liberian Thomas Eric Duncan, Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital released him after confirming he had a 103-degree fever. Two days later, he returned to the hospital, and doctors diagnosed him with Ebola. When anyone who has traveled in countries plagued by Ebola comes to a hospital with concerns, hospital staff should monitor patients closely during the appropriate incubation period.

To some, these instances of Ebola in the United States indicate a need to forbid people who have traveled through Ebola-stricken countries to pass through immigration and possibly increase chances of exposure. The federal government should maintain air traffic to West Africa, however because countries in this region are in desperate need of supplies and medical personnel.

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) maintains that  they would have already developed a vaccine if the federal government had not skimped on budgeting in the last 10 years. Nonetheless, Canadian Minister of Health Rona Ambrose recently announced the beginning of human clinical trials to test the efficacy and safety of a potential vaccine for Ebola.

Three days ago, NPR reported that 4,024 people have died from Ebola in Africa. In contrast, only one person has died from Ebola in the United States. There are other major viruses affecting Americans, like the recently deadly D6B strain of enterovirus that has infected hundreds nationally in just two months. Ebola, for now, is not a major threat to most Americans, and we should avoid getting swept up in an extreme media-led hysteria. However, we cannot trivialize its devastating impacts on people. Ebola, as one of the world’s many life-threatening contagious diseases, should be discussed rationally and ended quickly.