Threat is less about catching the virus than about controlling it in Africa.

347 34 LINKEDIN 16 COMMENTMORE

Sometimes, misinformation can spread faster than a deadly virus, as proven in recent days by the hyperventilation about Ebola.

Tuesday, while a man who had visited West Africa was screened for the disease at a New York hospital, tabloids screamed about an "Ebola scare" in the Big Apple. On Wednesday, officials said the man doesn't have the virus.

With similar irresponsibility, Rep. Todd Rokita, R-Ind., suggested that "with Ebola circulating and everything else," the U.S. needs to screen kids crossing the Mexican border. Never mind that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says an Ebola case has never originated outside Africa.

Rumor and myth are a dangerous brew when battling a deadly outbreak, even one centered half a world away. In the U.S., they can confuse the public and drive bad policy. In Africa, where rumors have kept people from seeking treatment, they can kill.

OTHER VIEWS: Research flows away from the poor

What's needed is accurate information, so here are a few facts:

  • Despite suggestions that each patient could be a modern-day Typhoid Mary, there is little chance of Ebola taking hold in the USA. Ebola is not spread through the air, like the common cold or flu, where droplets from coughs or sneezes can infect others. To get sick, a person would have to come in direct contact with bodily fluids of an infected person or with a contaminated object, such as a needle.
  • Though there is no cure for Ebola, experimental treatments are being developed, including one that appears to be working on two American missionaries being treated at Emory University. The World Health Organization was pushing Wednesday to explore the ethics of using the unproven drug in Africa.
  • Death rates have reached 90% in some outbreaks — a number widely publicized. But they've also been as low as 25% in Uganda in 2007. The rate in the latest outbreak is nearly 60%. If the disease reached the USA, patients almost certainly would fare better. Modern medicine can fight the symptoms of diarrhea, bleeding and dehydration.

The outbreak, the worst in Africa's history, started in Guinea, spread to neighboring Liberia and Sierra Leone, and appeared most recently in Nigeria. While West African leaders have ordered extraordinary measures — closing schools and quarantining households where someone is sick or has died — many people flout the rules because of tribal customs. Families continue to treat infected loved ones and personally bury the dead, spreading the disease. Some villagers ignorantly blame aid workers for bringing it.

Laurie Garrett, of the Council on Foreign Relations, says her greatest fear is that the rest of the world might "stand by like giant global voyeurs and watch these people. Period."

Fortunately, the world is starting to respond. More than 60 courageous CDC staffers have been dispatched to battle Ebola in the stricken countries, and Director Tom Frieden is optimistic the outbreak can be contained. The World Bank promised as much as $200 million to help fight the disease.

Americans are right to be concerned, but the threat is less about catching Ebola than about controlling it in Africa.

USA TODAY's editorial opinions are decided by its Editorial Board, separate from the news staff. Most editorials are coupled with an opposing view — a unique USA TODAY feature.

347 34 LINKEDIN 16 COMMENTMORE
Read or Share this story: http://usat.ly/1seh19J