According to the Financial Times, more than 45% of Americans believe that they, or close friends and relatives, will contract the Ebola virus.
Even if this were a rogue poll, that is a remarkably high percentage when one considers that only four people have tested positive for Ebola in the US, three of whom have since recovered.
Why are people so worried?
Firstly, the issue has become a deeply political one. President Obama has resisted calls to ban flights between the United States and the West African countries of Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone, where the Ebola outbreak is at its worst. It is unclear how a ban could be implemented, since all air traffic between the US and those countries is indirect — passengers change flights in Europe. Furthermore, Obama argues plausibly that such a ban would actually weaken the campaign to contain Ebola, since crucial US medical aid would be unable to reach the worst affected areas.
Republicans have accused Obama of playing fast and loose with public safety, while a number of Democratic senators have publicly repudiated the President's opposition to a travel ban. Political hacks have sought to stoke the panic even further.
Given that millions of Americans cannot afford private healthcare, it is easy to understand why many fear the consequences of a serious outbreak.
It’s just weird that they express that fear by backing Republicans who oppose even Obama’s limited moves to extend health insurance.
And the odds of catching Ebola in America are still incredibly small. The disease can only be transferred from human to human through blood and bodily fluid. Its dramatic sperad in West Africa has been made possible by the poverty, overcrowding and scant health provision in the region.
The best way to safeguard the American public against the risk of Ebola is not to close off air travel, but to provide serious financial and medical aid to the people of the affected African countries, on a long term basis.