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Frank Gray

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Though Ebola nasty, other diseases take deadlier toll

I first heard about the Ebola virus more than 20 years ago when I stumbled upon a book called “The Hot Zone,” which described the disease in painful detail.

The descriptions quickly cemented Ebola’s reputation as just about the nastiest disease anywhere. Adding to the mystery of the relatively new disease is that nobody had any idea where it came from.

Couple that with the fact that an airborne strain popped up in a warehouse full of monkeys in Virginia, and it became easy to imagine that this strange disease had the potential to become a 20th- or 21st-century version of the Black Death.

Over the years, though, Ebola seemed to be a relatively minor worry. Oh, there were some outbreaks here and there, but there were relatively few victims in most cases.

The current outbreak, though, seems to be running out of control, with close to a thousand people dying from the disease in the past few months.

In America, the outbreak didn’t seem to attract much attention, until, that is, American doctors started coming down with the disease and people started shipping patients with the disease back to the United States.

That has some people upset. The concept of introducing the disease to another continent is madness to them.

There’s a guy named Andy Hobo Traveler who writes a blog about traveling, and among his favorite places are these little countries in Africa, including some where Ebola has broken out.

Andy Hobo, who has a certain disdain for people who work for non-governmental organizations, says that people returning to the U.S. from countries where Ebola has broken out should actually quarantine themselves for 21 days upon returning.

Meanwhile, the World Health Organization has declared an international health emergency because of the disease.

Granted, the current outbreak is by far the most serious that has happened so far.

But I wondered. How big a deal is this, really?

No question, the outbreak of this nasty disease is scary, but compared with other diseases it’s almost inconsequential.

According to the World Health Organization, 8.6 million people came down with tuberculosis in 2012, and 1.3 million of them died.

As many as 287 million people came down with malaria in 2012, and as many as 789,000 died.

And AIDS, which is still a huge scourge in Africa, infects 35 million people around the world, and in 2012, 1.6 million of them died.

Looking at it from that point of view, Ebola, though scary, seems relatively minor.

Frank Gray reflects on his and others’ experiences in columns published Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday. He can be reached by phone at 461-8376, fax at 461-8893, or email at You can also follow him on Twitter @FrankGrayJG.