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Concerned About Ebola?

Consider protecting yourself against something that might actually harm you.
While West Africa’s Ebola epidemic has been devastating parts of the region for many months now, popular media coverage of the disease has intensified as it has slowly migrated to new countries and continents. We are seeing near-constant debate and discussion about the prospect of outbreaks outside West Africa, and especially how to implement quarantines and monitor travelers. When two nurses who cared for a patient with Ebola contracted the disease on American soil, anxieties were fueled.
But we must step back and be as rational as possible…stated another way, at the time of this writing exactly 2 of 300 million+ Americans have contracted the disease in the United States, so our odds of NOT contracting Ebola domestically are the best of any communicable disease currently in circulation. Yet, recent polling shows that 25% of Americans believe Ebola is a major public health threat (1). There will probably be more cases, and Ebola will continue to cause morbidity and mortality, especially in places with the deadly combination of low education attainment, high poverty, and weak health systems—but we will not see a widespread epidemic in the United States.
And yet there is a threat that will kill thousands of Americans this year and sicken many more: the flu. While 5 to 20% of Americans will get the flu in any given year, Americans clearly don’t perceive themselves at great risk for this disease because only 58.9% of children and 42.2% of adults got the flu vaccine in 2012 (2). This means that more than half of adults are choosing not to protect themselves and their communities from a disease over which we can exert a great deal of control. Even if the non-vaccinated people don’t die or get seriously ill from the flu, they may pass it to someone for whom the consequences are much worse. And although some people, such as the young and elderly, are at an increased risk, the flu causes serious illness and even death in healthy people of all ages each year.
While there are many other reasons to be deeply concerned about coverage of Ebola (for the racism and xenophobia inherent in narratives of the disease, for the way it mimics problematic judgements seen with past epidemics like HIV, for the inflammatory nature of some public discussions, etc.), in the immunization world we seek to re-ground people in the diseases that they’re actually at risk of and to remind them of the control they do have, which involves getting a flu vaccine annually.
When Ebola comes up in your conversations, please consider using it as an opportunity to remind people of the ways they can contribute to the health of their community. We have a strong health care and public health infrastructure in the United States, and it rests, on some level, on everybody doing their part. Getting a flu vaccine is one way to contribute. To find out where to get a flu vaccine, visit the vaccine finder.
(1) The Harris Poll; Pritish Tosh, M.D., infectious diseases physician and researcher, Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minn.
(2) “Flu Vaccination Coverage, United States, 2013-2014 Influenza Season.” Centers for Disease Control. http://www.cdc.gov/flu/fluvaxview/coverage-1314estimates.htm


Tags: Community Health   Ebola   Flu Vaccine   Immunization   protection   Public Health   

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