A Fourth of Americans Think They Will Contract Ebola in the Next Year, Are Wrong

America has the outreach capabilities to quickly stop an outbreak.

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Aug 22 2014, 4:00pm

Image: Shutterstock

As we are wont to do, Americans have managed to make this whole Ebola thing all about us, with pundits and politicians constantly worrying about when the virus will make its way to the country. That fear mongering is working, apparently: Roughly a quarter of Americans think they or an immediate family member will contract the disease within the next calendar year.

That's a fairly ridiculous notion, considering, well, everything we know about the disease. Ebola is spread through bodily fluids, much like HIV. But, unlike HIV, Ebola causes your skin to break out in lesions. That makes it considerably easier to spread bodily fluids, but it also makes it really, really easy to tell if someone actually has the disease. 

Read More: Poverty Is Ebola's Biggest Vector

Unless the virus mutates to be spread airborne, and there's no reason to think that it will, health experts say that there's no chance the disease becomes even a remote threat in the United States.

Image: Harvard University School of Public Health

Why? Because, unlike West Africa, America has first-class health facilities, the means to get information about the disease and outbreaks out to the people, and no language barriers between the populous. That means American families won't refuse to get treatment for their hypothetical infected loved ones, and they won't raid health clinics that are trying to help.

The countries where Ebola has become a problem "are very weak states where the government's writ hardly runs," John Campbell, a fellow at the Center for Foreign Relations said earlier this month. "All three have very very weak bureaucracies" where getting information out about the disease and quarantining those who are infected is difficult.

In other words, there's no reason to worry that Ebola is going to become widespread in the United States. And yet, people are absolutely horrified of it coming stateside.

According to a new poll from Harvard's School of Public Health, 26 percent of Americans are concerned that they or someone in their immediate family may get Ebola in the next year, and 39 percent are concerned there will be a large outbreak in the United States. Nearly 70 percent of people believe that Ebola "spreads easily," which would explain the first two survey findings.

That flies right in the face of what the Centers for Disease Control, the World Health Organization, and pretty much everyone else says about Ebola.

As my colleague Michael Byrne wrote earlier this month, poverty is the reason why Ebola is spreading so easily through Africa, not its transmissibility. 

Unsurprisingly, this is an issue of education: Those with higher levels of education are much less likely to believe there will be an Ebola outbreak in the US.

Ebola spreads in poorly educated villages, urban slums, and makeshift health care settings. It doesn't spread through suburbs with well-manicured lawns and city centers with top-notch hospitals. If Ebola comes stateside, and the method of transmission stays the same, it will be well managed, and it'll be exceedingly rare.