Imagine finally making it through the security line. Now all that is left is for you to locate your designated gate. You approach the gate and you see that the plane is already boarding. With your ticket out and ready to be scanned, you pass through the threshold and onto the flimsy bridge. The floor of the bridge reverberates under your every footstep. Just as you enter the airplane and survey the mostly filled seats it dawns on you.
The plane you will be traveling in for the next 5 hours is extremely small. The blood drains from your face as you realize that you will feel every gut wrenching jerk of turbulence, every crippling drop in altitude, and every redeeming rise in elevation. You now wish you had packed a sedative, but it’s too late. The truth is that you know that there is hardly any risk in flying in an airplane. In fact, you are very well versed on the statistics that show that you are hundreds of times more likely to have been killed in the taxi on your way over to the airport than to die in the plane that is now rounding the tarmac. Despite this knowledge, your fear is no less paralyzing as your plane lifts up into the clouds.
This is very much the same fear that takes over when you learn that not only has a man died of Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) in Dallas, Texas, but he has also infected two of the nurses that cared for him. So what does a plane crash and Ebola have in common? Both a plane crash and the contraction of Ebola can kill you. In either of these scenarios there is an overwhelming feeling of powerlessness. You feel no more in control of the maneuvering of the plane than you feel in the mitigation of the damage of the Ebola virus itself. However, there are distinctly defined risk factors in both cases and these should not be overlooked. If you are not planning on flying in an airplane it would be rather foolish of you to believe that you are at risk for dying in a plane crash. The same goes for the Ebola Virus. If you are not at risk for contracting EVD, then there is no reason to panic or feel afraid.
The epidemiological risk factors for contracting EVD are “contact with blood or other body fluids or human remains of a patient known to have or suspected to have EVD this applies, mainly, to health care workers; residence in—or travel to—an area where EVD transmission is active such as Sierra Leone, Guinea, or Liberia; or direct handling of bats or non-human primates from disease-endemic areas.” (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) The only people at risk for developing an Ebola virus infection are those who exhibit any of these factors. Meaning, the general public of the U.S. is not at risk and should, therefore, behave accordingly.
That being said, everyone should be fully knowledgeable about the symptoms of this devastating disease, which can be found here. Although the chance of a large-scale spread through the U.S. is minimal, there is still a likelihood of an asymptomatic individual with EVD traveling to the U.S. and therefore awareness of risk factors and symptoms is important. As we have come to find out, there is certainly a risk to healthcare workers who have cared for an EVD patient but, have not been properly prepared to do so. Discontinuing flights from affected regions is absolutely not the solution as that can greatly reduce the ability of those countries to receive the personal protective equipment and medications necessary to combat EVD. Global safety depends on the ability to assist the affected areas of the world quickly, effectively, and ethically. Many of you may be wondering what exactly the U.S. has done to assist in the fight against EVD. The white house has released a comprehensive report to that effect, which can be found here.