Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.

Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire 24.com network.

Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.


Ebola: Should you panic?

10 August 2014, 09:27

Abuja - The United States' top disease detective calls Ebola a "painful, dreadful, merciless virus."

The World Health Organization has declared the outbreak in West Africa an international emergency, killing more than 900 people and spreading.

That's scary and serious. But it also cries out for context.

AIDS alone takes more than a million lives per year in Africa — a thousand times the toll of this Ebola outbreak so far.

Lung infections such as pneumonia are close behind as the No. 2 killer. Malaria and diarrhea claim hundreds of thousands of African children each year.

In the United States, where heart attacks and cancer are the biggest killers, the risk of contracting the Ebola virus is close to zero.

Americans fretting about their own health would be better off focusing on getting a flu shot this fall. Flu is blamed for about 24,000 U.S. deaths per year.

To put the Ebola threat in perspective, here are some reasons to be concerned about the outbreak, and reasons not to fear it:

Why it's scary
There is no cure for Ebola hemorrhagic fever.

More than half of people infected in this outbreak have died. Death rates in some past outbreaks reached 90 percent.

It's a cruel end that comes within days. Patients grow feverish and weak, suffering through body aches, vomiting, diarrhea and internal bleeding, sometimes bleeding from the nose and ears.

The damage can spiral far beyond the patients themselves.

Because it's spread through direct contact with the bodily fluids of sick patients, Ebola takes an especially harsh toll on doctors and nurses, already in short supply in areas of Africa hit by the disease.

Outbreaks spark fear and panic.

Health workers and clinics have come under attack from residents, who sometimes blame foreign doctors for the deaths. People with Ebola or other illnesses may fear going to a hospital, or may be shunned by friends and neighbors.

Two of the worst-hit countries — Liberia and Sierra Leone — sent troops to quarantine areas with Ebola cases. The aim was to stop the disease's spread but the action also created hardship for many residents.

Where it is

The outbreak began in Guinea in March before spreading to neighboring Sierra Leone and Liberia. A traveler recently carried it farther, to Nigeria, leading to a few cases in the giant city of Lagos.

Ebola emerged in 1976. It has been confirmed in 10 African nations, but never before in the region of West Africa.

Lack of experience with the disease there has contributed to its spread. So has a shortage of medical personnel and supplies, widespread poverty, and political instability.

Sierra Leone still is recovering from a decade of civil war in which children were forced into fighting. Liberia, originally founded by freed American slaves, also endured civil war in the 1990s. Guinea is trying to establish a young and fragile democracy.

Nigeria, Africa's most populous country, boasts great oil wealth but most of its people are poor. The government is battling Islamic militants in the north who have killed thousands of people and kidnapped more than 200 schoolgirls in April.

This outbreak has proved more difficult to control than previous ones because the disease is crossing national borders, and is spreading in more urban areas.

Tom Frieden, director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, predicts that within a few weeks, Ebola will sicken more people than all previous occurrences combined. Already more than 1,700 cases have been reported.

Global health officials say it will take months to fully contain the outbreak, even if all goes as well as can be hoped.

Reasons not to be too afraid

Ebola is devastating for those it affects. But most people don't need to fear it. Why?

Ebola doesn't spread easily, the way a cold virus or the flu does. It is only spread by direct contact with bodily fluids such as blood, saliva, sweat and urine. Family members have contracted it by caring for their relatives or handling an infected body as part of burial practices. People aren't contagious until they show symptoms, Frieden said. Symptoms may not appear until 21 days after exposure.

"People should not be afraid of casual exposure on a subway or an airplane," said Dr. Robert Black, professor of international health at Johns Hopkins University.

Also read: Nigeria rushes to get isolation tents for Ebola

Health officials around the developed world know how to stop Ebola. Frieden described tried-and-true measures: find and isolate all possible patients, track down people they may have exposed, and ensure strict infection-control procedures while caring for patients. Every past outbreak of Ebola has been brought under control.

The CDC is sending at least 50 staff members to West Africa to help fight the disease, while more than 200 work on the problem from the agency's headquarters in Atlanta. The WHO is urging nations worldwide to send money and resources to help.

It's true that Ebola could be carried into the United States by a traveler, possibly putting family members or health care workers at risk. It's never happened before. But if the disease does show up in the U.S., Frieden said, doctors and hospitals know how to contain it quickly.

"We are confident that a large Ebola outbreak in the United States will not occur," Frieden told a congressional hearing Thursday.

Other things to worry about

Ebola's toll is minuscule compared with other diseases that kill millions of people.

"The difference is the diseases that do kill a lot of people — malaria, diarrhea, pneumonia — they cause their problems over time," Black said. "They're not generally epidemic. They're not the kind of sudden burst of disease and death that creates fear like this."

The common diseases have far lower mortality rates. They kill so many people because such huge numbers are infected.

In comparison, Ebola is manageable.

"The order of magnitude of the resources to control Ebola in small communities in three or four countries is very small compared to controlling malaria in all of Asia and Africa," Black said. "I don't at all think we should hold back on the resources to control Ebola, but we need more resources to control these major killers of children and adults that we're making too little effort against."

- AP

Tags ebola health

Read News24’s Comments Policy

Comment on this story
Comments have been closed for this article.

Read more from our Users

Nigeria @ 56: Words to my green f...

A leader’s job is not to dictate, but rather to be respected, admired and be a trustee, of the land we love, with so much potential, a land which should be freer than free. Its still a long way to fufilling our destiny! Read more...

Submitted by
Isaac Asabor263
Recession: An opportunity for Nig...

The recession should be seen as an opportunity for the country’s promotion as long as we all collectively conduct ourselves in a patriotic manner, writes Isaac Asabor.  Read more...

Submitted by
Black and White

We want to imitate the whites in everything because we are ignorant of our inherent originality and content. We spend all our Naira to acquire his inventions because we so oblivious of our natural endowments that we allow him have it for free. Read more...

Submitted by
Nate Nat
Adamawa State University Mubi: A ...

ADSU integrity forum has accused the Sunday Joshua Wugira, a lawyer, of adopting unorthodox tactics by abusing his privilege by attacking the integrity of ADSU Vice Chancellor Dr. Moses Zira Zaruwa, writes a News24 reader. Read more...

Submitted by
Abdulsalam Jubril
My Country Nigeria (Part One)

Poetry by Abdulsalam Jubril.

Submitted by
Abdulsalam Jubril
Recession, dearth in leadership a...

Every leader has the opportunity to become great and making himself immortal in the lives and hearts of people for generations to come. Will Mr. President seize this opportunity?, questions Abdulsalam Jubril. Read more...