From sensationalist stories in the media, you’d think the biggest risk facing Americans today is death by Ebola.
Not even close. As calmer voices have pointed out, the average resident of the United States is far more likely to die from influenza than Ebola. The number of flu deaths has fluctuated dramatically over the last 25 years – from a low of 3,349 in 1986-7 to a high of 48,614 in 2003-4.
Measure that against the single death from Ebola in the United States. As of this writing the toll is one: Thomas Eric Duncan, a Liberian who contracted the disease in his home country and died in Dallas, Texas, on Oct. 8.
As the Nature infographic shows, however, in a few West African countries the incidence and mortality associated with this latest outbreak of Ebola is extremely grave. As of Oct. 31 13,540 cases of the disease have been reported, with deaths totaling 4,941.
And while progress has been made in countries such as Nigeria, the number of cases is still growing in West Africa, requiring greater aid from more developed nations to contain and end the outbreak before it really does become a major health threat in countries outside of the immediate area.
U.S. President Barack Obama made that point Oct. 28. Speaking on the White House lawn, the president said, “We know that the best way to protect Americans, ultimately, is to stop the outbreak at its source.”
Several countries have provided aid in a variety of forms – from sending medical personnel to providing basic medical supplies – including Cuba, Uganda, France, the United States, and the United Kingdom, among others.
Despite the aid, the crisis continues to deepen and more needs to be done, say groups working in the affected nations. The humanitarian organization, Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), also has called on countries to stop the practice of routinely quarantining health care workers returning from West Africa, even when they show no symptoms of Ebola, a practice the groups says is counterproductive.
“Any regulation not based on scientific medical grounds, which would isolate healthy aid workers, will very likely serve as a disincentive to others to combat the epidemic at its source, in West Africa,” said Sophie Delaunay, executive director of MSF-USA, in a statement issued Oct. 27.