Talk to Your Friends and Family About Science: Ebola in the US

Somewhat inevitably with the global nature of travel these days, the first Ebola case in the US has been reported in Dallas. While this is obviously scary for the patient and his family, there is almost zero chance this will lead to a widespread outbreak in the US. Below are a few things to remember about Ebola.

Only people showing symptoms are contagious

Although the Ebola patient did travel on an airplane, he was not showing symptoms at that time and therefore was not contagious. The public health team in Dallas has traced his contacts since arriving in the US and will be monitoring those people to ensure they do not develop Ebola (Ebola has a 21 day incubation period).

Ebola is only transmitted through infected bodily fluids

Ebola is actually relatively hard to get. Ebola is not spread via airborne droplets and there is no reason to believe airborne transmission of Ebola will develop. Like with HIV, you must come in contact with bodily fluids from a person showing symptoms to contract Ebola. Just being in the same room with the person will not lead to Ebola spread.

The US Public Health infrastructure is equipped to deal with Ebola

Unlike in West Africa, the US has a robust public health system, well trained medical professionals in every community, and no shortage of the personal protective equipment necessary to prevent the spread of Ebola. In fact, Ebola related viruses like Marburg and Lassa Fever, have already made it to the US and no widespread outbreak occurred.

We should be more worried about the effect of the Ebola outbreak in West Africa

While we really shouldn’t be worried about a US Ebola outbreak, we should be more worried about the havoc occurring in West Africa. The outbreak is causing a tremendous amount of suffering in West Africa. The public health system is completely overwhelmed and non-Ebola medical care is suffering as well. There are extreme shortages of trained medical professionals, personal protective equipment, beds for those suffering from Ebola, and other basic medical supplies.

If you are worried about Ebola, consider donating to Doctors Without Borders to help fight the spread of Ebola in West Africa. Aid groups on the ground, like Doctors Without Borders, are also asking for help from any trained medical professionals willing to volunteer in West Africa.

A Few Other Resources About Ebola in the US:

CDC Ebola Information Website and Press Release

Tara C. Smith’s article in the Guardian about why we shouldn’t panic about a US Ebola Epidemic

Talk to Your Friends and Family About Science: Ebola Edition

This weekend my grandmother asked me if I had heard that two American aid workers with Ebola were being treated at Emory University. To be fair to my grandmother, I didn’t wait to see if she was worried about Ebola spreading in the US or just brought it up since she knew I did my postdoc at Emory. Instead I immediately replied, that yes I had heard they had been taken to Emory and that I was sure the doctors and nurses at Emory were in a very good position to treat them safely. I also told her that Ebola is relatively difficult to catch as you have to be exposed to bodily fluids from an infected patient.

This conversation illustrates a really important science advocacy role that we should all be playing: helping to inform the public (and especially those closest to us) about science and how to find reliable sources of information. There is a lot of misinformation about Ebola swirling around and we need to find some way to make sure the real science is heard over all the fear mongering.

Here are some great resources on Ebola to share with your family and friends:

“Please don’t panic about Ebola, here’s what you need to know” by Danielle N. Lee — Short and very accessible article appropriate for everyone.

“Everything you know about Ebola is Wrong” by Tara C. Smith — 5 Ebola myths debunked. Other posts on the author’s Aetiology site are also quite informative and go a bit more in depth about some of the background science.

Of course, communicating science isn’t always easy…


Image from Twitter user @emmkaff