The Great Ebola Scare
First-world countries have many, many advantages on their side in the fight against Ebola. For instance, people in first-world countries tend to trust healthcare providers and seek help from doctors and hospitals when they are sick. In many African countries, people are mistrusting and suspicious of healthcare workers and avoid going to hospitals at all costs. They see people going to hospitals and dying, and they believe they have better chances at home. This spreads the disease, due to exposing everyone else at home, and increases death rates, since home care isn't as good as hospital care.
Unlike some African countries, first-world countries have cultural practices that don't involve much direct contact with dead bodies. Dead bodies of Ebola victims are extraordinarily infectious. We don't typically handle the dead bodies of our friends and relatives in first-world countries, drastically limiting the chances for infection from them.
First-world countries have good supplies of infection control products, such as hand sanitizer, gowns, gloves, respirators, and so forth. During outbreaks in Africa, these essentials are often in short supply. In first-world countries, there are plenty of healthcare workers. In African outbreaks, there are few healthcare workers; with such shortages, it's easy for healthcare workers to become overworked and fatigued -- and therefore more likely to make deadly mistakes.
First-world countries can provide superb medical care for Ebola patients, even without a known cure. We can help keep Ebola victims hydrated with IV fluids and can help keep their electrolytes in balance. It's fairly easy and straightforward to do, if you have the right supplies and equipment. In situations without this capability, Ebola is much more lethal.
Sometimes it's hard to balance our fears with our desires for everything to be okay. One minute we're planning for the worst with as much intensity as hard-core doomsday "preppers," and the next minute we're going about our lives as usual, confident that this "scare" will be no worse than all the other scares in recent memory.
The safe and sane route is likely somewhere in the middle. Learn and use good infection control and prevention practices. Wash your hands and teach your kids to wash their hands. Carry hand sanitizer for times when hand washing isn't possible. Try to train yourself to break the habit of constantly touching your eyes, nose, and mouth. Use gloves when cleaning up bodily fluid messes, and be sure to disinfect surfaces contaminated by bodily fluids. These practices are simply smart ideas for everyday life. If you and your family do these simple things, you'll all likely stay much healthier.
Keep basic infection prevention and control supplies on hand, including soap, alcohol-based hand sanitizer, gloves, and bleach. These items are helpful in preventing many different kinds of infections, and are things that are good to have on hand at all times -- not just during scary outbreaks or epidemics.
Taking these inexpensive and relatively easy steps will also help to ease any anxieties you may have. Being a bit more prepared can help you control your fears.
And last (but definitely not least), we can't help but make this one last suggestion, which is completely unrelated to Ebola but is worth mentioned when discussing infection prevention: Make sure to get your yearly flu shot. Remember that influenza kills 3,000 to 49,000 people a year in the United States (some years are worse than others).
Still feel like you should be doing more? Consider donating to causes that help deal with the Ebola outbreak, such as Doctors Without Borders or the American Red Cross.