A few weeks ago, a man sneezed on a plane in Philadelphia, and then joked that he had Ebola. Officials in hazmat suits escorted him to the airport infirmary, delaying the flight two hours. The level of hysteria in the United States surrounding the Ebola outbreak is only increasing. With an epidemic of this degree, separating fact from fiction is crucial.
- Fact or fiction: Ebola is an airborne disease.
Fiction. Ebola can only be contracted through direct contact with blood, secretions, or bodily fluids of a person with the virus. You can be on a plane and not contract Ebola, even with an infected person sitting a few aisles ahead of you.
- Fact or fiction: There have been two confirmed cases of Ebola contracted in the United States.
Fact. In comparison, over 10,000 people have been diagnosed with Ebola in Guinea, Sierra Leone, and Liberia—and that’s without taking underreporting into consideration. Their number of cases is high because of the weak healthcare systems from which West Africa suffers. On the other hand, infection control in the United States is extremely efficient, which is precisely why the hysteria over the epidemic is geographically misplaced.
- Fact or fiction: Sneezing is a symptom of Ebola.
Fiction. The initial symptoms are fatigue, fever, muscle pain, headache, and sore throat. The second wave of symptoms includes rashes, diarrhea, vomiting, and reduced kidney and liver function. Because Ebola is a type of hemorrhagic fever, it can involve heavy internal or external bleeding.
- Fact or fiction: Once in direct contact with Ebola, you are highly contagious.
Fiction. Humans with Ebola are not contagious until they are symptomatic. In other words, unless someone is showing the aforementioned symptoms, you cannot contract the disease. The length of time from infection to the actual onset of symptoms ranges from 2-21 days.
- Fact or fiction: Death from the Ebola virus disease is caused by blood loss and organ failure.
Fact. The disease targets the circulatory system after the onset of severe symptoms, causing blood pressure drops and blood vessel failure. This leads to the eventual shutdown of all essential organs.
- Fact or Fiction: The 2014 Ebola outbreak began in August.
Fiction. The first case in the United States took place on September 30th, but the first case of the outbreak happened in March of this year in Guinea. Since then, the disease spread to neighboring countries. The first three Americans who were diagnosed with Ebola were Eric Duncan, a Liberian who was visiting family in Dallas, Texas, and the two nurses who had been in direct contact with him. The fourth case was diagnosed recently—a physician with Doctors Without Borders contracted the disease in Guinea. Note that these four cases all involve close contact with Ebola patients.
It is fairly obvious that the chances of an American contracting Ebola are very miniscule. However, this does not mean that there should be no alarm—the global impact of a disease as contagious as Ebola is significant. While Americans should not be paranoid about the virus within their borders, they should most certainly be concerned over the steps the United States takes in order to assist the countries without the means to contain the outbreak.