The Washington Post has a good article on Ebola that explains as well as I’ve seen anywhere how our fears of an Ebola pandemic are overblown (see here). It says,
Officials have been monitoring 48 people potentially exposed to Duncan prior to his hospitalization, his fiancée among them. The incubation period of Ebola, from infection to symptoms, is generally considered to be between two and 21 days. So far, none of these people has shown signs of Ebola disease.
“There’s a reason it’s not everywhere. It’s just not as easy to transmit as people think,” said Michael Kinzer, a medical epidemiologist for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention who spent five weeks in Guinea this summer fighting the outbreak and will return Monday.
While it is possible to contract Ebola in numerous ways, most forms of transmission are very unlikely. The primary way to contract the virus is through close contact with an extremely sick victim, who at that point in their illness are shedding massive amounts of the virus. As the article says,
For all these uncertainties [of the virus], the Ebola emergency in the United States has in a key respect played out exactly as epidemiologists would have expected: The people who have gotten infected, both of them at a Dallas hospital, had close contact with an extremely sick person.
This is why the virus has spread in West Africa. The poverty there results in people being in close contact with the very sick. But this is also why other West African countries have been able to stop the spread of the virus into their countries (see here). Besides closing their borders, they have been able to identify people with the virus and isolate them before they could spread to others.
And this is why Ebola will likely be largely contained to Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea. Now that the world is treating this matter seriously, they will quickly learn how to contain any outbreaks from those three countries. And in those countries, people will learn what they need to do to avoid getting the virus themselves. Coupled with increasing foreign aid to help them deal with the epidemic, they should be able to drastically slow down the spread of the virus.
Thus, I don’t think we’ll be seeing anywhere near the “1.4 million” cases by January that was reported earlier. This is a purely mathematical extrapolation based on the rate that the virus was initially spreading, but people change their behavior as they see people catching the virus and dying around them. As soon as the people in those countries start to avoid close contact with the extremely sick – something clearly anguishing to do when it’s family members, but something authorities will demand, and something foreign aid will help to enforce – then the virus won’t be able to spread at the rate it has been.
The thing about Ebola is that most of the cases are like a mini-volcano that will erupt as the sickness progresses. To avoid Ebola, just stay away from the volcano before it erupts. Well except for the healthcare workers who have to be right next to it at the peak of the eruptions, and must therefore take extraordinary measures to protect themselves. But as they learn how to do that and the volcanoes are isolated prior to erupting, then the virus will be stopped in its tracks.