Forget Ebola; fear junk food

Published 2:01 am Saturday, October 4, 2014

I am a self-confessed junkie. I listen to the news while I get dressed in the morning, and when I go home at night. Sirius is programmed to the news. I read at least one state newspaper at lunch most days. And most mornings, I read headlines in on my smart phone before I even take my head from my pillow.

I prefer that news straight, please. None of this happy stuff the major networks feature in the morning, for me. I’ll take the CNN version, please, or a serious debate on Morning Joe.

Until this week. I could not take a second more of what appeared to be an effort by CNN and others to create an Ebola panic in the U.S. after one case was diagnosed in Dallas, so I went back to NBC’s happy news.

Ebola is a scary virus, to be sure. The World Health Organization now estimates that 70 percent of those infected with the disease in West Africa have died.

But when put in perspective, there are a few things that ought to worry us more.

NPR reported on Thursday that Ebola actually has a pretty low RO factor. “R nought” is a mathematical term that tells you how contagious an infectious disease is. Stated more simply, it’s the number of people who catch the disease from one sick person, on average, in an outbreak.

Take measles, for instance. Most of us haven’t thought of measles since we had a vaccination as a kid. But one person with measles is likely to infect 18 people.

Mumps, that other childhood disease for which we were immunized, is less contagious. One person with mumps is espcted to infect 10 more, on average.

HIV is actually more infectious than Ebola. One person with HIV is expected to infect four others.

And Ebola? It has an R0 of 3, same as hepatitis C, and we don’t hear much hysteria about that, do we?

Local herbalist Thomas Easley put it very well in a social media post this week, asking people to reconsider their “freakout factor” related to Ebola.

“In 2014, the world has experienced the worst breakout of Ebola to date,” he wrote. “There have been 6,574 cases of Ebola worldwide as of Sept. 23, with 3,091 deaths.

“Meanwhile, in 2013, there were 627,000 deaths from Malaria worldwide. So far this year, over 3 million children have died of starvation/malnutrition.

“In the U.S. last year, over 700,000 people died from diabetes and heart disease. The vast majority of deaths could have been prevented with simple changes in diet and exercise.

“Think about these numbers as you prioritize your freakouts,” Thomas wrote. “It’s much more likely that sodas, donuts and Big Macs will kill you than Ebola.”

Someone, please kindly inform CNN so that we can all return to our regular broadcasts.