Ebola has entered the American bloodstream.
On a recent flight to California, Jim Kosmack stifled coughs from a cold to avoid attention from airport security. Laura Leseberg of Provo, Utah, bought the 1995 bestseller “The Hot Zone” to educate her family. In the Bronx, an African baker is leaving it in the hands of God.
“Sometimes you need to pray hard to fight serious diseases,” said Mimmagde Ouedraogo, who moved to the U.S. three years ago from Burkina Faso.
With three cases of Ebola in Dallas and deaths predicted to top 4,500 this week in Africa, where the worst-ever outbreak rages in Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia, the epidemic is penetrating American consciousness. Citizens are altering routines, often in almost imperceptible ways: purchases of sanitizer, an extra handwashing, second thoughts about whether a flush is a fever.
As government officials have sought to reassure, people are seeking information for themselves. The names of Amber Vinson and Nina Pham, nurses who fell ill with Ebola after treating a Dallas patient, have been among the most searched-for terms on Google.com this week, according to company data. Searches for “Ebola symptoms” also have exploded, with the most in the U.S. coming from Oklahoma and Hawaii as well as Texas.
“Outbreak,” a 1995 movie thriller, and “The Hot Zone: The Terrifying True Story of the Origins of the Ebola Virus,” by Richard Preston, have become newly popular on Amazon.com, with dozens of commenters weighing in on their newfound relevance in recent weeks. Kate Fowler, Leseberg’s 36-year-old daughter, said her mother gave her the book.
“I think it’s more dangerous than we’re led to believe,” Fowler said.
Kosmack, walking with his wife along the Santa Monica pier yesterday, said the epidemic has caused the couple to reconsider a safari in Kenya, even though he knows no cases have been discovered there.
“I wouldn’t fly to Africa,” said the 63-year-old retired real-estate developer.
At a nearby shop selling nutritional supplements, physician Pauline Jose said she expects Ebola to make its way to California. She’s keeping her distance from anyone exhibiting flu-like symptoms and has increased her intake of vitamin C and echinacea to strengthen her immune system.
“I’m just a little more cautious,” Jose said.
For all the concern, less-exotic viruses threaten the public every day. Deaths from flu range from 3,000 to 49,000 a year, depending on the severity of the season, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that looked at cases from 1976 to 2007. Even chicken pox may be more deadly in the U.S., with about 100 to 150 deaths annually.
Still, 52 percent of adults are concerned there will be a large Ebola outbreak inside the U.S. within the year, according to Harvard Public Health poll released yesterday. In August, 39 percent were.
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SOURCE: Esmé E. Deprez, Allyson Versprille and James Nash