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Other Infections

13. Ebola Death Toll Tops 8000, Stigma Recalls Early AIDS Epidemic


Outside the HIV and hepatitis fields, the major health topic in 2014 was the emergence of an Ebola virus outbreak in West Africa. While only a small number of cases have been seen in the U.S. and Europe, the resulting stigma and panic reminded many of the early AIDS epidemic.

The vast majority of Ebola infections have occurred in Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone. According to the latest reports from the U.S. CDC and World Health Organization (WHO), there have been more than 21,100 total cases and more than 8300 deaths so far. Global efforts appear to be making a dent in new infections and mortality rates, and researchers are racing to develop effective treatments and new vaccines.

In the U.S. there have only been a handful of cases to date. After 2 nurses were infected while treating an Ebola patient in Texas, the CDC issued stricter guidelines for use of personal protective equipment. Public health officials, medical professionals, and activists -- many of whom recalled their experiences during the early years of AIDS -- spoke out against quarantine policies targeting people arriving from West Africa, including returning volunteer healthcare workers.

"The toxic mix of scientific ignorance and paranoia on display in the reaction to the return of health care workers from the front lines of the fight against Ebola in West Africa, the amplification of these reactions by politicians and the media, and the fear-driven suspicion and shunning of whole classes of people are all reminiscent of the response to the emergence of AIDS in the 1980s," Peter Staley and Gregg Gonsalves wrote in the New England Journal of Medicine in December. "We all have to become activists if we are to protect the public health from being used as a tool to serve primarily political purposes, as it has been over the past few weeks in the United States."

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