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Thursday, August 7, 2014

Ebola presents no reason to panic

Telegraph Editorial

We Americans worry a fair amount about health – our own and that of those we love.

Which makes recent concern in this country about Ebola understandable, even as some think it skirts the edge of panic. ...

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We Americans worry a fair amount about health – our own and that of those we love.

Which makes recent concern in this country about Ebola understandable, even as some think it skirts the edge of panic.

There are two confirmed cases of the Ebola virus entering this country. Two relief workers with the disease, both Americans, were recently flown here from Africa to receive medical treatment. They came from Liberia which, along with Guinea, Sierra Leone and Nigeria, is one of the West African nations where the outbreak has hit.

Other Americans known to have been exposed to the disease in West Africa have been quarantined or have long since passed the time when they would have shown symptoms were they infected.

Still, the public is on edge, perhaps fueled by those of us in the media who have reported on the disease as if we expected an outbreak within our borders at any moment.

One person contacted an editor at The Telegraph this week, asking if we had heard about a case of Ebola at one of the hospitals in Nashua. We hadn’t, because there wasn’t.

Similar false reports have surfaced in other places around the country.

We also received a letter from a Dover resident, David Scott, who worried about a proposed flood of refugees from the Congo into that seacoast city. He put the anticipated number of refugees at 500 over five years (a New Hampshire tea party blog put the number at 3,000 over six years). Scott asked, “Is it conceivable that Dover could become the entry point of Ebola into New Hampshire?”

We talked to Dover Mayor Karen Weston and she said that’s a question a lot of people are asking in the Dover-Rochester-Somersworth area – along with many others having to do with how such an influx of families could be accommodated by the social infrastructures of those cities. It may be a moot point for now; the Manchester-based group working to settle the refugees has canceled a scheduled appearance before the Dover City Council that was set for next week, Weston said.

But to Mr. Scott’s point: Is it conceivable that refugees from Africa could carry Ebola and bring it here? Sure. Most anything is conceivable. But it’s also extremely unlikely, not only because of the vast distances the disease would have to travel, but also because it is not a disease that is easily spread between people.

As The Telegraph’s David Brooks pointed out in a story on Wednesday, while Ebola has a mortality rate as high as 90 percent among those who become infected, reasonable precautions work to prevent its spread. The idea is to prevent people from getting it in the first place, and that’s not terribly difficult.

Ebola cannot be spread through the air, and you also can’t get it through infected water or food. It requires contact with bodily fluids from an infected person who is already showing symptoms.

It’s much like HIV in that regard, and hospitals have long been accustomed to taking precautions against that.

“We learned universal precautions a long time ago,” St. Joseph CEO Dr. Richard Boehler said.

As a concession to the Ebola scare, health officials are now incorporating questions about travel history into the range of questions they routinely pose to patients who show up with a fever.

It’s good to be vigilant, but we think there’s no need to worry, and certainly no reason to panic.