Some are calling the backlash from the recent Ebola cases striking in the US as “fearbola.” CNN contributor Mel Robbins this week coined the phrase, describing the public outcry a “hyper-contagious disease that affects the brain, making sufferers fear a widespread Ebola outbreak in the United States.”
Put into perspective, Robbins has a point about our reaction to Ebola. According to the CDC, there are three confirmed cases of Ebola in the US. The estimated total contacts those people had with healthy individuals — 143 as of October 17, 2014. The CDC’s go-to figure for annual flu deaths is 36,000, a number that hasn’t changed since 1999. The reason: the CDC reports they don’t know exactly how many people die from flu each year.
Still, even 36,000 is nothing to take lightly. Compared to Ebola, flu seems the more heinous of the diseases.
However, Ebola is showing all signs of an epidemic. According to AIR Worldwide, the current Ebola outbreak in West Africa is believed to have started in Gueckedou, Guinea, in December 2013. On March 25, 2014, the disease was identified and reported by the World Health Organization (WHO). By August, cases had spread to Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Nigeria. WHO designated the event as a Public Health Emergency of International Concern, underscoring the seriousness of the outbreak.
As of October 15, 2014, WHO is reporting 8,997 cases and 4,493 deaths. However, the actual counts are likely to be much higher due to significant under-reporting. The main countries affected by the current outbreak are Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone. Isolated cases and small clusters have occurred in Senegal, Nigeria, the United States, and Spain.
Should the disease get a stronger foothold in the US, it could reach pandemic proportions quickly. Because it is not airborne makes no difference — touching someone who has Ebola is enough to contract the disease.
Pharmaceuticals are racing against the clock to get a viable Ebola vaccine to market as quickly as possible. The World Health Organization has announced two promising candidate vaccines, and WHO is working to fast-track a vaccine to market to protect against rapid spreading of the disease. Still, it could take months to get a viable product to market. Until then, there’s only prevention.
In response to the Ebola cases in the US, President Obama has appointed Ron Klain as the new Ebola Response Coordinator. Klain, former chief of staff to both Al Gore and Joe Biden, will serve not as an expert on the disease, but as a coordinator, overseeing implementation of a government-wide approach to tackling the Ebola virus.
Will that include a travel ban? Some say such a move would do nothing more than provide political posturing for election-year politicians and huge headaches for global travel. Still, there has been no dismissal of the idea. In fact, Jamaica has already banned travelers from west African countries from entering their country.
What do you think? As risk managers, how would you build a plan to halt the spread of Ebola?
Is your company considering placing travel restrictions or requiring self-reporting of any contact, either directly or indirectly, with Ebola?