It starts with familiar cold-like symptoms: mild cough, runny nose and fever. However, these symptoms can develop into more alarming conditions: red sores, oral white spots or diarrhea. It is extremely contagious; on average, 90 percent of those exposed will become infected. Similar descriptions have circulated since the Ebola outbreak began in West Africa. However, this is not Ebola. These are potential symptoms of measles.
There’s no arguing that Ebola is a very dangerous disease. However, University of Wisconsin-Madison Medical History Professor Gregg Mitman says there are many other illnesses that prove a bigger risk for Americans.
“In terms of the biology, measles is a much more contagious disease,” Mitman said. “So if you’re talking about risk perception based on a rational calculus, then people should be much more concerned about measles than Ebola.”
So, why is Ebola grabbing headlines while more conceivable diseases are not? Mitman says the answer lies not just in the virus’s graphic symptoms, but in the stereotypes, history and politics surrounding disease in Africa.