Ebola Is Scary, But Antibiotic Resistance Should Scare Us More

David Robert Grimes | The Guardian | November 24, 2014

Ebola is the stuff of nightmares. It causes profuse bleeding and organ failure and has a high mortality rate. But while the grim spectacle of dying patients in treatment centres in the affected African countries has stoked fears, cases in the west have been extremely rare in spite of a spate of false alarms across Europe and the US.

New Jersey governor Chris Christie has imposed a quarantine on healthcare workers returning from Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia, despite the policy being unsupported by any scientific evidence. Donald Trump has declared that American citizens who are known to be infected should be denied re-entry to their home country, despite their posing a minimal threat to the health of the general public if established infection control protocols are followed.

Context is vital when assessing the risks that Ebola presents outside the main epidemic areas. First, Ebola is not especially contagious. The current outbreak has an R0 of 1-2, meaning that each case infects on average between one and two other people. By contrast, measles has an R0 of 18, a staggering figure worth remembering for those debates with people who still question the importance of MMR vaccination...