The Ebola scare has been getting people all over the country into a frenzy about this disease and how to stop it. However, the sensationalist attitude of the media might be getting some people more scared than they need to be. While Ebola is a concern for those who have been in direct contact with patients, it is unlikely that the problem will reach more than a small handful of individuals in the U.S. We’ve recently talked about the much more widespread concern of Enterovirus D-68, but there are a few other diseases that you should consider a much bigger concern than Ebola.
For most people, the seasonal flu is little more than an annoying illness that causes a few missed work days each winter. You should not be so quick to write off the flu, however, as it leads to thousands of deaths in the United States each year—including about 100 fatalities in children. Most often, flu-related deaths are caused by pneumonia, which can easily infect flu patients who have weaker immune systems due to other conditions or old age. Still, the flu is controllable with annual vaccinations that are important for everyone, not just those with a high risk for complications. The flu is, unlike Ebola, an airborne virus, so it does not take long to infect large groups of people.
RSV, or respiratory syncytial virus, is a disease that doesn’t often make headlines, but it infects almost every child in the United States by age 2. Similar to Enterovirus, RSV does not pose a serious concern for most babies, causing only minor symptoms like fever and cough. RSV is a much bigger issue for babies who were born prematurely or with heart or respiratory problems. These children may have severe symptoms that lead to the use of ventilators or oxygen to assist in breathing. Serious RSV cases hospitalize about 125,000 children each year, but the disease only causes about 250 deaths annually, which is relatively low considering the infection rate. Unfortunately, though, there is no antiviral medication or vaccine for RSV, so it can only be prevented with good sanitary habits and minimized contact with those who have cold or flu-like symptoms.
A number of vaccine-related factors—including the anti-vaccination craze—have led to high infection rates of whooping cough, or pertussis, in the United States with infants being at the highest risk. The cough that lends the disease’s common name may persist for up to 10 weeks, causing patients to gasp for air as they fight the infection.
Another disease that has risen thanks to anti-vaccine crusaders is the measles, which should by all rights not be a health concern in the United States. Still, as unvaccinated mothers give birth to babies who are too young to have the vaccine themselves, the rates of infection have shot up. Measles is seldom deadly, but it will put patients in the hospital for extended periods, raise their risk for bacterial infections, and pose the risk for deafness and brain damage.
Typically when you have a bacterial infection, your doctor will prescribe an antibiotic to clear up the harmful bacteria. But when antibiotics are used for other illnesses, certain harmful bacteria may begin to develop drug resistance, so diseases become immune to common treatments. Those that have seen a rise in resistance to medication are tuberculosis, staph infections, gonorrhea, and pneumonia.
These diseases may be scarier than any haunted house you encounter this Halloween, but it is possible to reduce their impact with responsible habits like keeping up with vaccinations and regularly disinfecting surfaces around the home and office.