Is Ebola Going To Wipe Us All Out? An Explainer

The numbers are rather stark. If the proper precautions aren’t taken, there will 1.4 million cases of Ebola in Africa by the end of January 2015, according to the CDC. People are, rightly, scared. But what does this really mean?

Sorry, gotta go, need to build walls around my house and buy ammo!

Unless you live in West Africa, you probably can chill out. The concern is actually much different than the raw numbers suggest.

Wait, I thought you said the CDC said there were 1.4 million cases?

Yes, if the proper precautions aren’t taken. That number is also based on the estimated number of people who have been exposed to Ebola and aren’t going to to the hospital, basically the absolute worst case scenario.

Oh. So what’s a more realistic scenario?

More than 20,000 by the end of November, according to the WHO.

Gotta go! Ammo’s not going to buy itself!

Actually, there’s less needed to keep that from happening than you might think. The key problem with Ebola isn’t the disease itself. Ebola doesn’t spread through the air; you need to have contact with bodily fluids that the Ebola virus is residing in. This is why, so far, fewer than 4,000 total cases have been reported. Basically once you get the people who have Ebola contained, you’ve eliminated the problem.

So why the huge jumps in numbers?

Mostly to communicate the severity of the problem. Nobody is seriously concerned the numbers are going to get that high, but they would like a little more urgency and more funding because of the real problem.

Which is…?

That we might go from “outbreak” to “fact of life.” If Ebola establishes what’s called a “permanent presence,” that would essentially mean that outbreaks elsewhere in the world would become more likely. So, if you’re really worried about this, perhaps bug your Congressman to get some more funding to the agencies that need it.