Days of Change


October 18, 2014

Nearly a century ago, a virus spread throughout the world, infecting approximately one-third of the human population. There were about 100 million confirmed or suspected deaths in two rounds of the pandemic over the course of two years, making it fatal in 10-20% of cases. Almost 5 percent of the world’s population was lost┬áduring the Influenza outbreak. It is not even half as deadly as Ebola, just more contagious.

Virology is not a video game. Not everyone contracts a virus under the same conditions. Not everyone is contagious at the same point. Not everyone who gets the disease is even affected by it due to their biological makeup. Some people die with all the help in the world and others can seem to shake it off and live. It is simply a rule of thumb that someone cannot transmit a disease until they show symptoms. It’s an acceptable gamble for the common cold or flu. It is not the case for Ebola.

One of the bits of compliance mongering that NPR used was a chart of the┬ácontagiousness of Ebola compared to other diseases. Ebola has an R0 of about 1.5, meaning that 1-2 people historically are infected with Ebola from one patient. That certainly seems to be the cause for Thomas Eric Duncan, who has spread his Ebola to at least two people, in America, that we know of. Still, the magic chart tells us that other diseases like HIV (which everyone said in the 90’s was hard to catch) and Measles (which has a vaccine anyway) are more contagious. What’s missing?

I was wondering what the R0 of Influenza was, given that it had the highest body count of any pandemic. The number isn’t high. In fact, it is 2-3. That means a disease with less than half the mortality of Ebola is only slightly easier to spread. In 18 months, this virus with an R0 of 3 became a pandemic that wiped out 5% of the world. Today, that would be about 350 million graves.


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