You Think Ebola Is Scary? Check Out How Many People Die from Plain Old Flu Every Year

Be afraid: The influenza virus kills thousands of Americans each year
Be afraid: The influenza virus kills thousands of Americans each year
Five cases of Ebola have been treated in the United States so far this year. Three were contracted in Africa. Two of these victims were Americans who were flown home for treatment. The other was the Liberian national, Thomas Duncan, who developed symptoms after he arrived in Texas from Africa. The last two were healthcare workers who treated Duncan in Dallas. Of the five, only one patient has died — Thomas Duncan.

Tragic as these cases are, the hysteria they have unleashed in the media and among Republican politicians is beyond over the top. The Ebola “crisis” has topped the hour on cable news channels for days. The lowest point, so far, was when news choppers tracked an ambulance for an hour or so one early evening last week as it transported one of the nurses to a hospital, bringing to mind the infamous “slow speed chase” on L.A. freeways that kicked off the O.J. Simpson murder scandal in 1994.

Meanwhile, with the midterm elections a few weeks away, Republicans have worked nonstop to blame the Ebola outbreak on Pres. Obama and, by extension, the Democrats. They have also incorporated the outbreak into their get-out-the-vote strategy by fanning the flames of fear to get their easily terrorized followers to the polls. Their unified message on Ebola — a call to ban flights into the United States from the affected areas in Africa — is typically anti-scientific and counterfactual. Experts say such a ban would likely create a bona fide crisis here, and there is the embarrassing fact that there are no direct flights into the United States from the affected countries.

At an unofficial 2016 presidential campaign event in New Hampshire last week, Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, a practicing ophthalmologist, declared that Ebola was easier to contract than HIV:

You’re not going to get AIDS at a cocktail party. No one’s going to cough on you and you’re going to get AIDS. Everybody knows that. That’s what they make it sound exactly like. But then you listen to them closely, they say you have to have direct contact. But you know how they define direct contact? Being within three feet of someone.

In fact, Ebola is not contracted through airborne transmission, as Paul suggested. Infection is caused by direct contact with bodily fluids like blood, vomit and feces. On the other hand, there is a deadly virus that is easily contracted through airborne transmission as Sen. Paul describes: Influenza, the common flu that infects people by the hundreds of thousands every winter.

According to WebMD, influenza is “a highly contagious disease” that is routinely contracted when people inhale infected droplets in the air after infected people cough or sneeze. WebMD says the virus can also be transmitted through “direct contact with an infected person’s secretions (by kissing, touching, sharing objects such as spoons and forks).”

Influenza is so commonplace that it is rarely thought of as deadly, and yet, according to the Centers for Disease Control, 6,300 Americans die from influenza virus infections every year on average — that’s an average annual rate of 2.4 deaths per 100,000. The rate of influenza deaths per year in the CDC study ranged from 961 Americans in 1986 to 14,715 in 2003.

It is noteworthy that in 2003 when the 14,715 Americans died from influenza infections, Democrats did not blame their deaths on Pres. George W. Bush, and, thankfully, foreign politicians did not call for banning flights from the United States into their countries.

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