Marc Yacht: U.S. safe from Ebola if public health workers have proper resources

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The recent U.S. Ebola cases alarm some Americans, but their concerns are unwarranted.  Such dangerous infectious diseases can be controlled as long as our federal and local public health agencies have adequate resources.

Americans should remember SARS, West Nile Virus and Swine Flu. All were dangerous outbreaks.  But for the most part, U.S. public health agencies are managed by fully trained health professionals who understand what needs to be done when a disease like Ebola erupts.

Experts suspect that Ebola was initially spread from animal to man in West Africa. The U.S. cases typically involved travelers from West Africa.

One must put in perspective that Ebola case numbers are relatively low even in West Africa when you consider diseases such as TB, AIDS and malaria.

Countries facing outbreaks such as sub-Saharan Africa typically have poor health systems.  There are inadequate hospitals, physicians, nurses, and little or no resources to respond to people living in extreme poverty.

Outbreaks like Ebola call for cooperation from wealthier nations to address poverty, hunger and war. All nations have a stake in addressing poverty to reduce global health risk.

The United States Public Health system is sophisticated enough to respond to infectious disease.  The only serious weakness in the U.S. system is the 42 million people who are uninsured and the millions of others who are underinsured.  Uninsured people are reluctant to seek health care, which is a threat to all of us.

Those at risk for Ebola typically live in abject poverty and have little or no access to adequate public health services.  When an outbreak occurs, the international public health community focuses on the affected area.

On a positive note, cases identified in the U.S. will be managed in a very sophisticated public health system that should halt the spread of the disease.

The fatality rate of Ebola can vary from 25 percent to 90 percent.  There have been no deaths in the U.S.

The cost to treat and contain the disease is enormous. Ebola is spread by body fluids, contaminated needles and infected animals.  It is not spread through the air, water or, in general, by food.  There is no evidence that mosquitoes or other insects can transmit the Ebola virus.

The U.S. faces small risk to an expanded Ebola epidemic as long as adequate resources exist to pay for critical public health efforts.

Dr. Marc Yacht is a semi retired physician

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