As concerns and misconceptions about the Ebola virus continue, the directors of Georgia Tech’s Health and Humanitarian Systems Center remind everyone that people in the U.S. have little chance of catching the disease. Instead, families should focus their attention on vaccine-preventable diseases, said professors Ozlem Ergun, Pinar Keskinocak and Julie Swann.
Ebola is scary, but it is not the biggest threat to you and your family. For many threats, there are concrete actions that you can take to keep your family healthy.
Let’s put the health risk of Ebola in the U.S. in context.
Each year in the United States, more than 200,000 people are hospitalized due to influenza and between 3,000 and 49,000 people, mostly adults, die of influenza and its complications. One million people get shingles, 32,000 get infected with invasive pneumococcal disease (and about 3,300 die), and 800,000 to 1.4 million people suffer from chronic hepatitis B. About one child in 20 with measles will get pneumonia, and one to two out of 1,000 will die.
Vaccines offer full or partial protection against these and many other diseases, so it is very important that both children and adults get recommended vaccinations. The single best way to protect a person at higher risk is to vaccinate them against the flu, and vaccinating their caregivers is also a good strategy.
Ebola is scary in part because the mortality rate is so high, particularly in communities with insufficient health systems. Popular media treatments of it such as the film “Outbreak” also contribute to the fear around it.
But for you and your family, the direct impact is likely much lower. In general for any disaster, the impact on a community is not only related to the likelihood an event will occur and the number of people at risk, but also on the ability of the community to respond. In the U.S., the number of cases to date is fewer than five, and the ability of the U.S. healthcare system to respond is far greater than in West Africa.
For Ebola, you should direct what resources you can to Africa out of compassion and a concern for further spread, but for yourself you should take simple measures like getting appropriate vaccinations to reduce the impact of diseases that are much more likely to affect you and your family.
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