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Opinion

No U.S. Ebola Worries If Resources Exist

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The recent American cases of Ebola are alarming.  

Such catastrophic infectious diseases demand adequate money to federal and local public health agencies.  Americans should remember SARS, West Nile Virus and Swine Flu; all recent dangerous epidemics.  It is critical that all U.S. public health agencies are managed by fully trained health professionals and do not fall victim to political cronyism. 

Experts suspect that Ebola was initially spread from animal to man.  This transmission can generate serious viral strains.  West Africa appears to have spawned several epidemics that have been contained due to adequate public health team response. 

One must put in perspective that case numbers are relatively low even in West Africa when you consider deadly diseases such as TB, AIDS and malaria.  Infected Ebola cases have found their way to the U.S.  It is predictable to expect disease spread throughout the world. 

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 poor populations living in extreme poverty.  Hunger and poor nutrition are a catalyst for the incubation and spread of catastrophic infectious diseases like Ebola. 

Such outbreaks call for cooperation from wealthier nations to address poverty, hunger and war.   It is clear that there is universal risk to serious disease.  All nations have a stake in addressing abject poverty to reduce global health risk.

The United States Public Health system is well designed to respond to infectious disease.  Weaknesses relate to the 42 Million uninsured and the millions underinsured.  Compromised health care access can have deadly consequences for communities.

Those at risk for Ebola typically live in abject poverty, filth, 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.  Of course those health workers, journalists or others following the outbreak onsite are at risk.  The U.S. cases typically involved travelers exposed to the virus in West Africa.

On a positive note, those identified cases will be managed in a very sophisticated U.S. public health system that should abate further disease spread.  The fatality rate of Ebola can vary from 25 to 90 percent.  There have been no deaths relating to cases in the U.S. to date.  

Treatment has improved as witnessed by the current cases in the United States.  High fatality rates relate to poverty and delayed health care.  The cost to treat disease is enormous and requires vast international commitments to reduce high mortality rates. 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 Ebola virus.

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

Marc Yacht, MD is a semi-retired physician living in Hudson, Florida.