Ebola vs. Flu
If you go by media coverage and public sentiment, the most important public-health problem in the United States right now is Ebola. Though the virus has infected only two people here, a recent poll found that forty per cent of Americans see Ebola as a “major or moderate threat” to public health, as Michael Specter points out in this week’s Comment. Meanwhile, over the past month, another infectious disease, Enterovirus D68, has made its way into the headlines. The virus causes respiratory problems, often severe, in children, and, in rare cases, kids infected with the virus have come down with muscle paralysis (it’s still not known whether the virus is actually causing the paralysis). So far, almost six hundred children, in forty-five states, have been infected by the virus, and though most have recovered quickly, five have died. Anxiety among parents has grown so much that some now wonder if we’ve been worrying too much about Ebola, and not enough about enterovirus.
In reality, we’re worrying too much about both Ebola and EV-D68, and too little about an infectious disease that is much more likely to inflict serious damage on the U.S. I’m talking, of course, about the flu. We know, based on past experience, that the upcoming flu season will kill thousands of Americans and send hundreds of thousands to the hospital. Yet the press seems relatively diffident about raising an alarm about this threat; its flu coverage has none of the high-pitched anxiety that suffuses writing about Ebola or EV-D68. EV-D68 has provoked headlines like “How Well is Sacramento Prepared for Ebola, Enterovirus Outbreak?” and “What Scares You More—Enterovirus D-68 or Ebola?” No one is asking “What Scares You More: Ebola or the Flu? (Continued: The New Yorker)