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Ebola (EVD) deaths compared to major wars and epidemics

This logarithmic chart updates the cases and deaths from the West Africa Ebola outbreak to May 4, 2015, and compares them to major historical wars and epidemics.

The downward trend of the Ebola disease is most easily seen in the red C’s = Cases and the black D’s = Deaths placed on the end of each month. This decreasing trend in cases and deaths is due to the massive efforts to control this disease, by WHO, the CDC and local authorities. Without that effort the trend line projected on the logarithmic chart for another year shows Ebola could have become as deadly as AIDS or World War II in a year. We must give heartfelt thanks to those heroes who risked their lives to contain this deadly disease, and to the hundreds of healthcare workers who did lose their lives.

There are lessons to be learned from this tragedy, and high among them is that there must be immediate response to disease outbreaks. The original response was surprisingly good, and the disease was confirmed to be Ebola within three months of the first case in the tiny tropical village of Meliandou, Guinea. That was when there were only about one hundred cases, but unfortunately the disease had already spread over a vast geographical area, and was already randomly mixed in with millions of people. Thus, tracing all the contacts of all the people carrying the disease would require a massive effort. Unfortunately massive efforts require massive amounts of money, and that required an awareness of the logarithmic explosiveness of the problem. It wasn’t until October, when the disease had infected tens of thousands of people, that the materials costing billions of dollars were on the sites where they could be effective.

Nowadays the quickest and cheapest epidemic fighting technique is to broadcast in the various public media the information that is needed. It must be in a form that the public can understand and respond to in an effective way. That didn’t happen, and now eleven thousand people have needlessly died of Ebola Virus Disease. We need to create a system for preventing the transmission of infectious disease from one victim to others and thus to everyone. The system for preventing the transmission of disease must be cheap,  easily understood, easy to use, easily responded to and to some degree clearly effective in slowing transmission of disease. More is needed than TV broadcasts and public posters.

Here is a method that would work, and although it would be unpopular, because it would identify sick people and stigmatize them, it could be effective, and could perhaps be enforced by the at-risk people themselves. Create and distribute badges that would indicate a person’s health status. People would wear the badges at all times during an epidemic, and the symbol for their current health status would be indicated. Most sick people would not have the epidemic disease, but the badge indicating sickness would create a barrier of distance between the sick people and healthy people, which would slow transmission. Perfect compliance isn’t needed, because lowering the transmission rate makes it much easier to cope with the problems that come from those who are sick.

A similar badge could be placed on everyone’s living-space door, that would warn people that the person in the room was sick, or healthy. The specific disease need not be indicated, and only the general state of sickness, and thus of potential infectivity would be indicated. An additional benefit would be that infectious diseases, other than the epidemic one, would also have a lowered transmission rate.

This, of course, is an intrusion on people’s privacy, but during an epidemic:

Most people would prefer to wear a badge than to die of an avoidable disease.