Infectious diseases, whether they’re ebola, SARS or the flu, are very good at a few things. Namely, they excel at passing bits of a virus or bacteria from a given source to people. How easily they spread, how sick people become, and how lethal these diseases can be vary, as recently shown by the Washington Post.
The current ebola epidemic has been called “the most severe acute public health emergency seen in modern times,” largely due to its duration and high rates of death among infected individuals. No fully effective treatment is available and no vaccine exists against ebola, which makes its persisting presence even more unsettling.
The “good news” is that ebola actually spreads more slowly than many other infectious diseases. This means that, in theory, ebola outbreaks can be more easily contained and halted than these other infectious diseases. This is the case if health agencies and systems can provide a timely and effective response to outbreaks (which we know tragically didn’t happen in West Africa).
Measles is another infectious disease that can very rapidly upend and ravage any place where people lack exposure or protection against the virus. In 1980, just prior to the widespread implementation of the measles vaccine, the World Health Organization (WHO) estimated that measles killed 2.6 million. In 1951, when a traveler unwittingly brought measles to Greenland, nearly every person on the island subsequently got measles – literally, 999 measles cases per 1,000 people. [Read more...]