After the Center for Disease Control confirmed the first case of Ebola in a Dallas hospital this week, an onslaught of reports quickly ignited widespread anxiety as if we were on the brink of a catastrophic plague.
While the spread of Ebola past the quarantined borders of African warrants scrutiny, epidemiologists remain skeptical of the virus' potential to spark a mass pandemic in the United States.
As Dr. David Lakey, commissioner of the Texas Department of State Health Services, told the L.A. Times, "This is not West Africa."
The current epidemic afflicting Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Nigeria and Senegal has claimed 7,192 lives, but the massive scope of the outbreak is due to poor medical infrastructures. Hospitals in the affected regions lack the basic supplies needed to control the virus' transmission in large, rural areas. As a consequence, hosts traveling from the countryside to the city amplified the number of the infected, overwhelming the medical systems.
Beyond the institutional weaknesses that rendered West Africa vulnerable to Ebola, cultural practices and beliefs also contribute to the virus' increasing death toll. "Some people still believe that it’s some sort of witchcraft or that the healthcare workers are really secretly spreading the disease. Some people may be ashamed to have a family member with Ebola and they therefore wouldn’t get the care that might help save their lives," explained Columbia University's Stephen Morse, Ph.d. in a discussion broadcast by The Huffington Post.
By contrast, the U.S. has many more resources that make it possible for us to "out-doctor" Ebola before it can spread to new hosts. In addition to the fact that our hospitals are better equipped to deal with Ebola in the U.S., the ability to provide protective gear such as gloves, masks and disposable bed covers significantly strengthens resistance to fluid-borne diseases like Ebola.
The case of Ebola in the Dallas Metroplex does not have the same opportunity to multiply as it did in Guinea or Sierra Leone. And while it is always wise to be informed and to exercise proper hygiene, a national pandemic is unlikely to strike the U.S.