You're Almost Definitely Not Going to Die: An Ebola Primer
The Ebola virus outbreak in west Africa is definitely nothing to trifle with. It's killed more than 800 people already, in Sierra Leone, Liberia, Guinea and Nigeria, and Margaret Chan, the director general of the World Health Organization said Friday that the "outbreak is moving faster than our efforts to control it." That's not the kind of thing you want to hear.
Photo Credit: hukuzatuna via Compfight cc Ebola virus, just kinda sitting there, not coming to get you.
And with news that two people have been treated at New York hospitals with possible symptoms of the disease, there's some understandable anxiety. But take a deep breath.
Here are a few things to know:
It's Not That Easy to Catch Ebola
Ebola is not an airborne virus. That was the big concern in the 1995 classic Outbreak, which starred Dustin Hoffman, a firebomb, and a government propagated, ebola-like pandemic. If, like a certain Village Voice reporter, you inexplicably decided to watch Outbreak recently on Netflix -- like three damn weeks ago -- that might be something you're worried about, too. Especially on, say, the subway.
But in the real world, ebola is transmitted only through close contact with bodily fluids. That means blood, saliva and urine. And it means that the guy on the train with a nasty cough is not going to infect you, and even rubbing all up against him during rush hour, if that's your thing, isn't going to pose a risk.
A few days ago, the doctor who first identified the virus, Peter Piot, addressed the mass transit question directly, when he told the Telegraph in London that "I wouldn't be worried to sit next to someone with Ebola virus on the Tube," -- which is just London-talk for "subway," -- "as long as they don't vomit on you or something. This is an infection that requires very close contact."
And while nothing's impossible in New York -- what a town! -- you're probably not going to get puked on during your morning commute. Almost definitely not.
An Outbreak Here Would Look Much Different Than What's Going on in Africa
The U.S. is blessed with an exorbitantly expensive but actually pretty well-run medical system, at least when it comes to an outbreak like Ebola. We have good communication between hospitals and we can marshall huge amounts of resources when we need to. The fight against Ebola overseas has been hampered by misinformation and a system that's terribly underfunded. WHO recently released $100 million for intensified efforts, and more will need to be done. But as Dr. William Shaffner, an infectious disease specialist at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, told ABC News, "We don't have the environment (in the U.S.) that is conducive to this virus. We might get some imported cases, and God forbid it might spread to a healthcare worker but it would not spread further."