The news is abuzz with the Ebola outbreak in three African countries – Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone – and much of the media had a conniption when it was announced that Dr. Kent Brantly – the doctor who contracted the virus while doing humanitarian work treating Ebola patients – would be transferred to Emory Hospital in Atlanta, also home to the CDC. He has now arrived, of course, and in fact, he walked into the hospital himself (amid a completely shameful and unnecessary media circus).
In the past several days, I’ve seen very smart and educated friends of mine on Facebook sharing status messages of fear and concern about the virus, asking whether it’s such a good idea to “bring Ebola to the US” (when, in fact, it’s been here for many years) and whether it is appropriate to treat the infected doctor stateside. We fear that which we do not understand, so I’m writing this post to clear up some of that misunderstanding and hopefully alleviate some of those fears.
Ebola is not among my specialty areas of knowledge, but the advantage of being a science journalist is that I get to talk to a lot of epidemiologists and other infectious disease specialists, and one of my strongest skills is sniffing out the facts and separating the wheat from the chaff when it comes to picking out accurate, non-sensationalized articles that put news into perspective. Therefore, I’m providing a reading list of what you *should* be reading instead of the fearmongering at CNN and other outlets. (I pick on CNN because I keep thinking they should know better.)
First, however, the most important thing to know about Ebola virus is that your own likelihood of contracting the disease is *tiny* – it’s less likely than being attacked by a shark, which is less likely than being struck by lightning, which is less likely than SIDS, which is FAR less likely than fatal car accidents. (Or, as a friend and bioterrorism expert at the University of Pennsylvania put it on Facebook, “there are so, so many other things to worry about. Like antivaxxers. Food poisoning. Kangaroo attacks. Hippos. The morning commute. And so on.”)
But wait, you say, it’s a contagious disease! And it has a 90% mortality rate! However, both of those statements need heavy qualifiers. It is a contagious disease that is neither food-borne nor airborne and which requires contact with bodily fluids. The mortality rate ranges from 25% to 90%, but that rate has MUCH more to do with the health care quality and resources than it does the disease itself. A 60-90% mortality rate in Africa does not translate to a 60-90% mortality rate in the US.
And so, moving on, here is your (relatively short) curated reading list on the Ebola outbreak and the virus itself:
First up is a great FAQ at the Daily Kos. Yes, the Daily Kos is a partisan site, but this piece was pulled together by a contributing editor who is also a medical doctor, Greg Dworkin, and I contributed (on Twitter) some of the links he includes. It basically brings together the best gems from a wide range of linked sites.
Another nice overview and FAQ is at Nature: “Largest ever Ebola outbreak is not a global threat”
Next, epidemiologist Rene Najera at John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health offers some great commentary on these two posts: “If Ebola does get to the United States, we’re doomed, but not for the reasons you think” and “Ebola is in the United States, now what?”
UPDATE: Please be sure to check out Maryn McKenna’s commentary and curation at Wired: “Ebola in Africa and the U.S.: A Curation.” McKenna is pretty much *the* infectious disease reporter you want to follow for anything about “scary diseases.” She is based in Atlanta only a few miles from the CDC and has been covering infectious disease and food for well over a decade (or two).
UPDATE: A fun Q&A between Erin Gloria Ryan and two doctors, in classic Jezebel style, answers a lot of those pesky questions you keep thinking of at 3 am: “The Paranoid Hypochondriac’s Guide to the Ebola Outbreak.” h/t Andrea Luttrell
Over at Atlanta Magazine is this excellent short read by Rebecca Burns, “Yes, Ebola patients are coming to Atlanta for treatment. No, you do not need to panic.”
Also, some good commentary on the arrival of Dr. Brantly is here at Forbes by David Kroll: “Should We Be Concerned About American Ebola Patients Coming To Emory Hospital?”
UPDATE: If you’re wondering why treatment is so tricky for Ebola, check out Helen Branswell’s thorough piece at National Geographic: “Promising Ebola Drugs Stuck in Lab Limbo as Outbreak Rages in Africa.”
Finally, though less about Ebola and more about risk perception, I highly recommend this brief thought piece on how we think and feel about risk: “How Ebola Can Help Us Vaccinate Against the Danger of Fear.”
This list is not exhaustive, of course, but I wanted to highlight some of the better pieces I had come across, most of which are short, easy reads since we parents don’t have tons of time to be reading everything we come across. If you’ve found another good article, please leave it in the comments. I may update this post with other ones I come across.