Ebola: How much are you talking about it?

This entry is part 1 of 5 in the series Ebola
2014 chart of ebola epidemic in West Africa

Wikimedia Commons editors Mikael Häggström and Brian Groen have been updating this map since early September, showing the rising number of cases and deaths. As of mid October, European health officials monitoring the virus’s spread announced that Nigeria seems to have been effective in containing the disease.

Yesterday, the U.S. Department of Defense announced the formation of “a 30-person expeditionary medical support team that could, if required, provide short-notice assistance to civilian medical professionals in the United States.”

Does this response make you feel more secure—or more worried?

Ebola has riveted Americans’ attention, eclipsing other issues that had dominated the news cycle. Over a third of the American population (36%) said they were closely following the story of the current Ebola outbreak, according to the Pew Research Center—and this poll was taken in early October before additional cases were spotted in recent days.

U.S. airstrikes against ISIS fell to the number two spot on the list of what Americans are very closely watching, followed by the travails of the Secret Service, and midterm elections next month, and protests in Hong Kong.

Ebola was the top focus in all age groups, Pew reports, except the oldest cohort (65+) where it tied with ISIS. Even 30% of the youngest age group (18-29) were closely following the Ebola story.

Ebola comes up in just about any conversation I’ve had in the last several days. For example, this past weekend I gave a talk about American values to a University of Michigan alumni group. The topic came up in response to a question about American values in the future. One clear connection is the core value of security—protection from external and internal threats to the nation. These are often thought of as terrorist threats, but global epidemics are also included.

Our responses to the Ebola threat are a crucible of the core values of security and of freedom. These values are often in tension. More of one means less of the other. Many of the tactics proposed to secure the nation from the threat of Ebola involve the reduction or suppression of the value of freedom.

Is Ebola a topic of daily conversation for you?

How do we manage such a panic as a population?

What values do we bring to bear in weighing information about Ebola and how we think about it?

Ebola: Changing your travel plans?

This entry is part 2 of 5 in the series Ebola
CDC Symptoms_of_ebola

DOES IT REASSURE YOU (or make you more anxious) TO KNOW THE SYMPTOMS? This information comes from the Centers for Disease Control and was posted as a graphic to Wikimedia Commons by Mikael Häggström.

So far this month, I’ve been on 10 different planes and through several major and regional airports in the U.S. I have to admit that Ebola crossed my mind from time to time, but I haven’t changed any travel plans. Have you? Has anyone you know?

More than eight of ten Americans (83%) are following the news about Ebola at least somewhat closely, according to new national poll results just released yesterday by Rasmussen Reports. Forty-five percent say they are following the Ebola story very closely. A quarter of all Americans (26%) are very concerned personally about Ebola, with an additional 31% reporting that they are somewhat concerned. Only 15% say they are not personally concerned at all.

The level of concern has abated slightly since Rasmussen Reports’ poll on the same issues in early October. This slight decrease is noteworthy because, since the earlier poll, two nurses in Texas were diagnosed with the disease. It remains to be seen how Americans react to the news released yesterday that the people who were closest to the Ebola patient who died in Texas have passed the 21-day period without any symptoms and are free to leave their homes.

And some Americans are changing their personal travel plans because of the occurrence of Ebola in the United States. Just over one in ten (12%) say that they have done so, according to Rasmussen Reports. Men and women are equally likely to have changed their personal travel plans.

Most Americans (83%), however, say they have not changed their personal travel plans because of the Ebola threat.

What is your current level of concern about Ebola in the U.S.?

Have you changed your personal travel plans due to the occurrence of the disease in the U.S.?

Ebola: Does hysteria make sense?

This entry is part 3 of 5 in the series Ebola
10 Leading Causes of Death by Age Group

WANT TO WORRY? CLICK ON THE TOP CHART to see it expand and learn the “10 Leading Causes of Death by Age Group,” the most recent version compiled by the CDC. CLICK ON THE LOWER CHART to see it expand and learn the “10 Leading Causes of INJURY Death by Age Group” from the CDC.

There was a time when hysteria made sense and fleeing for the hills was a prudent survival strategy, notes sociologist Claude Fischer. When yellow fever and cholera were prevalent and the mechanisms of transmission (and hence prevention or treatment) were unknown, leaving town was the best way to avoid illness. Of course, this meant that the burden of a disease fell disproportionately on the poor and the immobile.

Is Ebola another time for hysteria?

Drawing upon history, Fisher argues “that, while alarm and drastic emergency actions are needed in a few West African countries, the U.S. has the expertise and the resources to contain this kind of infectious disease.”

He notes that during the same three-week period in which Thomas Duncan was diagnosed and died, thousands of Americans died from other contagious conditions. Some of these conditions are medically contagious; others are socially contagious:

10 Leading Causes of Injury Death by Age Group“…during an average three-week period in the United States: 35 people die from tuberculosis; 3,200 from influenza and pneumonia–500 of those people under 65 years of age; 1,100 from suicide by gun; 650 from homicide by gun; 1,000 by alcoholic cirrhosis; and 1,900 by motor vehicle accident. These deaths are not only vastly more numerous, they are much more contagious, either in a medical sense or in a sociological sense. Where are screaming headlines for those risks?”

The threat of Ebola has captured our attention. But the diseases and conditions that occur slowly and in some ways acceptably elude our concerns. Fischer questions whether we have the will “to contain the much greater killers like alcoholism, firearm use, and motor vehicles.”

Is hysteria warranted when it comes to Ebola?

Should we be focusing on other killers of Americans?

Ebola: Losing confidence in the government to address threat?

This entry is part 4 of 5 in the series Ebola
GALLUP POLL ON Americans confidence in government ability to control ebola

Click the chart to visit the Gallup site and read the entire report.

Has your level of confidence in the government to handle Ebola changed over the course of this month? Does your political ideology influence your views?

If your confidence has dropped, you are not alone. More Americans are less confident in the federal government’s ability to handle Ebola, according to a new Gallup poll. On October 5th, 61% of Americans were very confident or somewhat confident that the federal government could handle the Ebola threat. By October 19th, just over half (52%) of Americans are very or somewhat confident in the government’s ability to handle Ebola.

Levels of worry about Ebola—and attitudes about the chances one or a member of one’s family would get it—have not changed much during the same period. In addition, 65% of Americans at the beginning of the month of October and the same percentage now say expect only a minor outbreak of Ebola in the U.S.

Why has confidence dropped while concerns have stayed the same? Politics, says Gallup analysts. Like so many issues, Ebola has become a politicized issue.

Democrats were always much more confident than Republicans in the federal government’s ability to handle Ebola and their confidence has been pretty steady. Republicans, however, are losing confidence. Almost half of Republications (48%) in early October believed the federal government was able to handle Ebola, but now only 37% feel the same way.

Since Gallup’s poll earlier this week, the government has taken additional steps. These include funneling passengers from the affected West African nations through five major U.S. airports, screening at these airports, and an active monitoring program for anyone coming from these countries for 21 days after arrival. A total ban on air travel has not been established.

Has your level of confidence in the government’s ability to handle Ebola changed?
If so, why has it changed?
Do the new measures raise your confidence and lower your worries?

Ebola: Should profit-seeking drive development of Ebola medicines?

This entry is part 5 of 5 in the series Ebola
HOW WILL A CURE BE FOUND? In addition to corporate and university research, government-funded centers are working on the puzzle. This photo shows a researcher at the United States Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases in Maryland, better known as USAMRIID (pronounced you-SAM-rid).

HOW WILL A CURE BE FOUND? In addition to corporate and university research, government-funded centers are working on the puzzle. This photo shows a researcher at the United States Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases in Maryland, better known as USAMRIID (pronounced you-SAM-rid).

Have you heard of “Ebolanomics”? It’s what happens when humanitarian needs clash with the profit motive.

So far this week, we’ve discussed how Ebola has dominated the news and our daily conversations, the extent to which people are changing their personal travel plans, whether hysteria makes sense, and the public’s slipping confidence in the federal government’s ability to handle the Ebola threat. Today, we consider the economics of the situation.

“Ebolanomics” has entered our lexicon to refer to the challenges of the business model for developing vaccines or treatments for Ebola. To put it bluntly, drug companies are for-profit enterprises and there isn’t much money to be made in medicines for Ebola or other so-called tropical diseases that predominately afflict the peoples of poor nations. While there is certainly an humanitarian need for these medicines, drug companies aren’t going to make much money by developing them.

Drug companies make much more money by developing and selling medicines for the ills and afflictions of the people of affluent nations. Now, I’m not chiding drug companies for focusing on profits. Making money is an imperative for private companies organized as for-profit, market-driven corporations. And drug companies do considerable philanthropic work.

But the dilemma remains. How do we promote and reward the development of medicines where there is dire human need for them, but little money to be made? Should the government fund the research? Should big prizes be awarded for breakthroughs? These are some of the questions be considered right now by the World Health Organization and other organizations.

Should humanitarian needs outweigh the profit motive?

How would you solve the dilemma?