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AP Images for American Red Cross
Volunteers participate in a mapping event held by the American Red Cross and the US State Department in response to the Ebola outbreak in West Africa on Aug. 22 in Washington.

Ebola’s threat to America not dire

Local doctor: More deadly diseases exist

When two Americans who had caught Ebola in Africa were transferred to the United States for treatment, some people were outraged that the disease was being introduced to this continent.

But to Dr. Scott Stienecker, the medical director of epidemiology and infection prevention at Parkview Hospital, though the disease is certainly scary, “We're far better prepared to handle this disease” than the medical infrastructure in Africa, where an outbreak has claimed more than a thousand lives.

“We just did a tabletop exercise, and we have everything we need to treat Ebola,” Stienecker said.

To put Ebola, which is certainly a fearsome disease, into perspective, Stienecker pointed out, “We deal with infections that are far more infectious and deadly, and no one gets upset.”

The real danger, he said, is the irrational fears of the public. The American public is as capable of panicking as any other population group. It happened with West Nile virus, he said. “Everybody was afraid to go outside” because they were afraid they would be bitten by a mosquito and get the disease.

“But isn't that the goal of public education, to help the public understand?” he asked.

To Stienecker, there are plenty of other diseases that can be every bit as deadly, and no one seems concerned.

Since the beginning of time, Ebola has killed only 3,500 people.

But there are 75,000 cases a year of MRSA, which is resistant to the most powerful drugs, and 6,000 to 10,000 people a year die from it, Stienecker said. Still, when people hear of MRSA, they passively acknowledge that it's a problem.

In America, 40,000 people die from influenza every year.

“Last year the intensive care unit was full of young people who had checked out of society for two months” because they had come down with influenza, he said.

Ebola is just one of perhaps 10 hemorrhagic fevers, Stienecker said.

“I've personally taken care of people with dengue fever (another hemorrhagic fever), hantavirus,” which has a fatality rate of close to 40 percent, according to the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention, where he once worked.

The general public, though, doesn't seem worried about any threat from Ebola.

Community hospitals, on the other hand, have concerns when members of their staffs take mission trips to places where Ebola might be present, Stienecker said.

“What do we do? Is there a chance it (Ebola) could show?” Stienecker said. Those people are simply told to wait three weeks before they return to the U.S.

The fact is, Stienecker said, “Taking reasonable precautions, it's hard to get.”

“Want to be scared about something,” Stienecker said, be scared of rabies. It's found in bats, and it's started infecting raccoons.

“It's creeping west,” he said. It's in the Cleveland area now.

“It's traveling 20 to 35 miles a year. In 10 years we're going to see rabies in this area” in raccoons, he said.

fgray@jg.net

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