Health: Why are people afraid of Ebola? |

Health: Why are people afraid of Ebola?

Phil Mohler, M.D.
Free Press Health Columnist

In November 2014, an opinion poll revealed that the U.S. public ranked Ebola as the third most urgent health problem in our country. The cost of and access to health care ranked first and second, but Ebola beat out all diseases — heart attacks, strokes, cancer and being Trumped to death. At the peak of concern (mid October 2014) almost half the U.S. population was “very worried” or “somewhat worried” that they or their family would come down with Ebola. Fact: There have been only two cases of Ebola transmission in the United States and both patients have survived.

Why Ebola phobia?

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation supported a study that reviewed 179 public opinion polls about Ebola. The critical factor that placed the high fear factor of Ebola was that people did not understand, or chose not to believe information about how Ebola spreads.

Eighty-five percent of respondents felt you could contact Ebola by being coughed or sneezed on. Fact: The Ebola virus is not transmitted in an airborne manner. It is transmitted by human to human direct contact of blood and other body fluids.

Almost half those polled felt that the disease could be transmitted before the infected person had any symptoms. Fact: Ebola patients are only contagious after they develop symptoms.

Further, less than a third of those polled trusted U.S. public health officials to share complete and accurate information about the Ebola virus. A poll by Quinnipiac University revealed that only 14 percent of the public said they trusted the federal government to do what is right “almost all the time” or “most of the time.”

My Take:

The response to the Ebola outbreak in this country in 2014 was not public health’s finest hour. True, there was no significant spread of disease or loss of life in the U.S., but the failure to provide repeated, consistent information about how Ebola is spread allowed fear to proliferate. I’m not sure how to repair the trust in our national public health agencies.

What infectious diseases should you be afraid of in Mesa County? None, but recognize that our risk of influenza, which is real, increases each day as we head into fall. Flu vaccine is now available in pharmacies and, behold, some physician offices.

Free Press health columnist Dr. Mohler has practiced family medicine in Grand Junction for 39 years. He has a particular interest in pharmaceutical education. Phil works part-time for Rocky Mountain Health Plans. Email him at

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