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5 Viruses Far Deadlier Than Ebola

By Jeffrey Kopman
Published: August 22, 2014

Worse Diseases Than Ebola

With more than a million people quarantined in West Africa, and people dying every day, the current Ebola outbreak has many concerned about the potential for the virus to spread farther.

(MORE: What You Need to Know About Ebola)

“In comparing this to past Ebola outbreaks, it’s the largest that there has ever been,” Christina T. Liscynesky, M.D., an assistant professor of internal medicine at the Ohio State University’s Wexner Medical Center, told weather.com. “It’s unclear why it has come back, but it could be because of deforestation and lack of natural animal habitats.”

This fear and uncertainty hit home when two American health workers in Liberia contracted the virus and returned to the U.S. for treatment. In the past three weeks, 68 hospitals in 27 states have had Ebola scares, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported on Aug. 20, according to ABC News. Fifty-eight cases were deemed false alarms. Ten patients had blood tests sent to the CDC for confirmation of the Ebola virus — but every single reported test has been negative.

This underscores that though the outbreak is extremely serious in West Africa, there’s little reason for Americans to panic. The odds of the virus making its way over to the States and spreading, as it has in Africa, remain nearly impossible.

“The main thing is it’s a direct contact transmission, so it has a low [likelihood of being transferred from person to person],” said Dr. Liscynesky. “It’s likely something we don’t need to worry about coming from Africa. But if there were a case, all of the hospitals [in the United States] are preparing to handle it.”

Although this is the deadliest Ebola outbreak in history, it pales in comparison to other infectious diseases that are persistent threats around the world. Here are five conditions worse than Ebola.


Influenza

Unlike Ebola, influenza outbreaks occur consistently throughout the world. The virus kills about 35,000 each year — just in the United States.

“Influenza is spread via droplets through the air, while Ebola spreads by touching infected bodies, or a surface that’s contaminated, and then touching your eyes or mouth,” said Dr. Liscynesky. “The infectivity rate is a lot lower than influenza.”

She added that, “the flu is always the main [infectious disease] we’re concerned about,” which is why healthcare workers strongly recommend receiving an annual flu shot.


Tuberculosis

The second-deadliest infection in the world, tuberculosis infects more than 8.6 million people per year and kills 1.3 million worldwide, according to the World Health Organization.

“Tuberculosis can spread easily, in the air and from coughing,” said Dr. Liscynesky. “Some [countries] are able to control it. Because of our public health infrastructure, it doesn’t spread in America.”

“Ebola is the main concern because the epidemic is out of control, but [usually] tuberculosis is a huge concern [in Africa],” she added.


HIV/AIDS

Each year, HIV/AIDS kills more than a million Africans — far more than every Ebola outbreak in history added together — and thousands of Americans.

In 2011, the virus killed 1.7 million people worldwide, and with an estimated 34 million more were still living with the condition, according to AVERT, a UK-based HIV/AIDS charity.


Malaria

In addition to HIV and tuberculosis, this infectious disease remains a top problem in Africa.

In 2012, the mosquito-borne disease caused an estimated 627,000 worldwide deaths, mostly among African children, according to WHO. The organization estimated there were about 207 million cases that year.


Measles, Mumps and Rubella

All three of these diseases are easier to transmit than Ebola, but rarely get attention because they are so easy to prevent. In the United States, the MMR vaccine offers more than 95 percent protection from each disease, but cases and outbreaks continue to pop up because of people refusing the vaccine.

“We had an outbreak of mumps on [our] campus [in Ohio]. These types of viruses will circulate as long as people don’t vaccinate,” said Dr. Liscynesky. “We always say to vaccinate because the most common things in America are things we have vaccines for.”

Other countries aren’t so lucky: In 2014, there were about 47,000 cases of measles in the Philippines from January through June.

“There are [even] parts of America where it could spread because people aren’t vaccinated, and it’s much more infectious than Ebola,” said Dr. Liscynesky.

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