Dr. Vincent DeGennaro Jr. '02 | November 5, 2014
In the winter of 2009, just as the swine flu epidemic was peaking in New York City, I was a medical resident working in the ICU at Columbia Presbyterian Hospital in Manhattan. The viral epidemic swept across the U.S., causing 265,000 hospitalizations and over 12,000 deaths, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The New York City Department of Health, headed then by Dr. Tom Frieden, now director of the CDC, led a campaign encouraging hand washing and vaccination.
Quarantine for patients or health care workers was not considered a valid option during that epidemic, but now with one imported case of Ebola in New York City, quarantine has been implemented in several states in direct opposition to experts at the CDC and World Health Organization (WHO). Fear and politics, not science, are the reasons behind these contrasting policies.
The differences between influenza and Ebola are striking, as are the different responses from the public and the state governments. Influenza is spread by respiratory droplets, meaning that a sneeze or cough can spread it, while Ebola requires direct contact with infected bodily fluids, an intimate occurrence not common on a subway or airplane. Left in the community, a person symptomatic from Ebola will, on average, infect two other people, while influenza patients will infect three others and measles as many as eighteen people.