With reporters of the Western World losing their heads over the outbreak of the Ebola virus, it’s helpful to put it in the context of other diseases.
This year roughly 8,000 West Africans have contracted the disease, mostly limited to just four countries (Liberia, Nigeria, Sierra Leone and Guinea). Of these there are 3,866 confirmed deaths, for a mortality rate of a hair under 50%.
This might seem pretty serious, but as far as threats in West Africa, it’s really small potatoes.
Malaria is so common that in these countries that it is almost a rite of passage. Last year there were about 1 million cases reported in the four aforementioned countries. Of these around 15,000 people died. The mortality rate of 1.5% might not be high by Ebola standards, but in terms of gross numbers there is no comparison.
Ebola seems to be a big deal because it is not a virus that is present in general life. While malaria is a continual threat, outbreaks of Ebola happen only every so often. (There have been 14 since 2000, though this most recent one of the largest.) These past outbreaks were also big news items at the time, and I doubt anyone remembers them any longer. Certainly the only memory of Ebola that I can remember is compliments of a Saturday Night Live skit in the late mid-1990s.
As for being infectious, Ebola is transmitted through bodily fluids. Even the CDC admits that the potential for widespread infection is quite low since direct contact with someone infected with the disease is necessary.
Malaria, by contrast, is spread by a means mostly out of our control – mosquitoes. Cover up because you could be in trouble if you get bit with a mosquito that previously bit an infected person. By comparison, stopping the transmission of Ebola relies on clean hospital practices when dealing with patients, as well as sanitary disposal of infected corpses. (Incidentally, those rules aren’t unique to stymieing the spread of Ebola and apply to basically any infectious disease.)
Just like I can’t remember any of the other 14 outbreaks of Ebola these past 14 years, I’m sure this one will fade away from my memory. More likely it is promoted by news agencies looking for a story. Of course, if that were the case you’d wonder why people wouldn’t be more interested in the tens of millions who have contracted malaria over the past decade.