IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Bioethicist: Why Americans Should Really Worry About Ebola

If you live in the United States, you don't have to fear Ebola. What's really worrying is how hard it is to get us to worry, writes Art Caplan.
Get more newsLiveonNBC News Now

You might not believe this if you watch the news, but if you live in North America, Europe, Japan or any developed country you do not have to worry about Ebola.

Yes, I know, the headlines are screaming that Ebola is on the march to your front door. The coverage is intense and the volume is tuned up to the max. A sure sign that things have gone over the top is that both Donald Trump and The Onion have weighed in.

There are endless reasons in the media to absolutely, utterly panic. But don’t.

This is not the first plague that the media has identified that is planning to target you and me for death while we are on summer vacation. Can you say West Nile virus? Actually West Nile is probably more dangerous to you than Ebola if you don't live in Africa or a poor nation.

Now, it is true that Doctors Without Borders has called Ebola "totally out of control" and the World Health Organization calls it the worst outbreak ever of the disease. And it is — in Western Africa in countries such as Guinea, Sierra Leone, Liberia and the Ivory Coast.

Not on the list of places that the WHO thinks need to flip out are the U.S., Canada, Britain, Switzerland, Australia, South Korea, Singapore or other rich nations with strong health care response capabilities. In fact the U.S. is so sure that it can control Ebola that two people with the disease are coming back to Atlanta for treatment at Emory University Hospital.

Why bring someone with such a deadly disease into our country unless you are very sure you can contain it? Medical authorities know that it is very hard to transmit Ebola, that those most at risk live in nations that lack gloves, and moonsuits and quarantine facilities, and that it is brave doctors and nurses who treat patients with Ebola in resource-poor conditions that are at the greatest risk.

Ebola is not going to run amok in downtown Boston, Cape May or Myrtle Beach or anywhere else in the U.S. It is running amok in poor African nations because local authorities did not have the will or the resources to respond quickly, because no one confronted local funeral customs that expose people to Ebola, mainly because the world did not care much if hundreds died in poor, politically insignificant nations.

The harsh ethical truth is the Ebola epidemic happened because few people in the wealthy nations of the world cared enough to do anything about it.

We do need headlines about Ebola. They should ask how did this incurable plague get out of control in Africa when medicine knows how to contain it? What are we going to do to fund research to find vaccines and treatments for diseases that don’t immediately threaten us, but kill a lot of people in far away lands?

A public health policy that ends at our borders is not fair, just or even smart.