More than 450,000 Americans die every year from tobacco use, and around 300,000 die from obesity related diseases. To date, less than 5,000 people have died worldwide from the 2014 Ebola outbreak. As of this writing, only one person has died in the United States, and his infection originated in Liberia. Despite the widespread panic surrounding the disease, the probability of a widespread Ebola epidemic occurring in the United States is near zero. That said, Ebola is a frightening disease.
Ebola has a fatality rate of around 90 percent, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). Ebola is a relatively new disease—the first patients were diagnosed in Africa, along the Ebola River in the Democratic Republic of Congo, in 1976. There is currently no known vaccine or treatment for the disease.
That’s the bad news. The good news is that while Ebola is extremely infectious, it’s not very contagious—it’s very difficult to contract the disease. Unlike measles and influenza, Ebola is not transmitted through the air. People can only be infected if they come into direct contact with the bodily fluids from an infected person, or contaminated objects from infected persons.
Symptoms of Ebola include aches, diarrhea, fever, stomach pain, vomiting, and weakness. Some patients experience bleeding, chest pain, rashes, red eyes, sore throat, and difficulty breathing and swallowing. The symptoms typically appear eight to 10 days after exposure to the virus, but the incubation period can stretch to 21 days. Ebola cannot be transmitted from those who display no symptoms or from those who have survived the disease. Dogs and cats cannot spread the disease to humans.
Ebola outbreaks have only occurred in African countries. As of mid-Novemberm, 2014 they are: Liberia (2,766 deaths), Guinea (1,054 deaths), Sierra Leone (1,130 deaths), and Nigeria (8 deaths).
The first case of Ebola in the United States was reported at the Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital in Dallas on September 30, 2014. The Liberian patient Thomas Eric Duncan died on October 8. The critical care nurse Nina Pham, who had direct contact with Duncan, tested positive for the disease several days later. A second nurse, Amber Vinson, also contracted the disease. Both were treated at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland and both recovered thanks to state-of-the-art medical technology not available to African patients.
The odds of an average American dying in a car crash, being hit by lightning, or having a fatal fall in the bathroom are much higher than the odds of contracting Ebola. While a minor outbreak might occur in the United States, there is no need to panic yet.