Via The Guardian: Concerned about Ebola? You’re worrying about the wrong disease. Excerpt:
The 800-plus deaths from Ebola in Africa so far this year are indisputably tragic, but it is important to keep a sense of proportion – other infectious diseases are far, far deadlier.
Since the Ebola outbreak began in February, around 300,000 people have died from malaria, while tuberculosis has likely claimed over 600,000 lives. Ebola might have our attention, but it’s not even close to being the biggest problem in Africa right now. Even Lassa fever, which shares many of the terrifying symptoms of Ebola (including bleeding from the eyelids), kills many more than Ebola – and frequently finds its way to the US.
The most real effect for millions of people reading about Ebola will be fear and stigma. During the Sars outbreak of 2003, Asian-Americans became the targets of just that, with public health hotlines inundated with calls from Americans worried about “buying Asian merchandise”, “living near Asians”, “going to school with Asians”, and more.
Similarly, during the H1N1 “swine flu” outbreak, which had almost identical spread and mortality to seasonal flu, patients reported extreme fear, prompted largely by the hysterical coverage.
In the coming months, almost none of us will catch the Ebola virus. Many of us, though, will get fevers, headaches, shivers and more.
As planes get grounded, communities are stigmatised, and mildly sick people fear for their lives, it’s worth reflecting what the biggest threat to our collective wellbeing is: rare tropical diseases, or our terrible coverage of them.