10 Global Health Threats in Addition to Ebola - dummies

10 Global Health Threats in Addition to Ebola

By Edward K. Chapnick

While the world is focused on West Africa as it experiences the worst Ebola outbreak in history and fears of a worldwide Ebola epidemic ensue, thousands of other diseases wage their wars against public health, too. The irony is that when you compare Ebola to other global health threats you see that it’s not the worst-case scenario.

The world’s fight against Ebola is valid, but society has to be careful not to lose sight of the big picture that includes other threats, such as the following.


Every year, influenza kills about 36,000 and hospitalizes 200,000 more in the United States alone. During the 2013–2014 flu season, more than 100 children died from the flu. In fact, the flu ranks number seven on the CDC’s list of ten top killers.

The irony is that a vaccine is available for influenza, but only a third of Americans get their annual flu shots.

Antibiotic resistance

More than 2 million people in the United States develop an infection from antibiotic-resistant bacteria annually. The CDC estimates that at least 23,000 people die from those infections each year.

Infections and diseases that were once cured by a safe, inexpensive, and simple medication now require broader spectrum (cover many different types of bacteria), less safe, and more expensive antibiotics to treat.


In 2013, WHO reported that there were 145,700 measles deaths worldwide. Measles cases in the United States skyrocketed in 2014 (about 600 cases were reported from January to August alone, compared to less than 200 in all of 2013, and less than 100 in 2012). This rapid and large increase is a huge problem.

One in every thousand children who contract measles will die, and all of them get extremely ill. (Some actually go deaf or suffer from permanent brain damage.)

To protect yourself against measles is simple: For best protection, the CDC recommends vaccinating your children twice: once when they are 12 to 15 months old, and again when they are 4 to 6 years old. If you’ve already been vaccinated, then you don’t have anything to worry about. People who have had the measles, and those born before January 1, 1957 are also considered to be immune and don’t require vaccination.

Drug-resistant Tuberculosis

According to WHO, there are 500,000 new cases of drug-resistant tuberculosis per year worldwide. The treatment is long and hard, and fraught with side effects. Tuberculosis kills the second-highest amount of people among illnesses that contain only one pathogen (behind HIV/AIDS).

Drug resistance arises when the course of antibiotics is interrupted and the levels of drug in the body can’t kill all of the bacteria.

Congenital syphilis

This type of syphilis occurs when a mother passes on the disease to her unborn child in utero. Congenital syphilis is a neglected health problem, and many countries don’t invest in the cost-effective prevention, diagnosis, and treatment measures to stop it.

The fetus is at greatest risk of contracting syphilis when the mother is in the early stages of both the illness and her pregnancy, but the disease can be passed at any stage of pregnancy, even during delivery. If a pregnant mother receives treatment (especially before week 16), the chances are very good that the fetus won’t contract syphilis.


In 2012 alone, malaria killed somewhere in the range of 627,000 people worldwide. The people living in the poorest countries (pretty much right where the Ebola outbreak is) are most vulnerable to it. Before Ebola struck, these countries were waging a promising battle against malaria, but the current Ebola outbreak has taken away all resources that they had for it, so in fact, even more people are dying of malaria right now.

There is effective treatment, but prevention is far better than treating a serious disease. If you’re going to be going to an area that has malaria, you should visit your doctor to acquire antimalarial pills, which are taken throughout the trip and for one to four weeks after return. Also, be sure to use a mosquito net, wear clothes that cover your skin, and spray yourself with mosquito repellent.


Helminths are intestinal worms (roundworms, whipworms, and hookworms) that are transmitted through soil. The WHO estimates that more than one billion people have them. Because they’re transmitted through fecal matter that ends up in the ground soil, helminths are more prevalent in areas that don’t have well-developed hygiene and sanitation systems, but they can occur in the United States and Canada.

Typically, people residing in at-risk areas are periodically treated with de-worming medication regardless of diagnosis. The medication is given once a year when the prevalence of soil-transmitted helminth infections in the community is more than 20 percent and twice a year when the prevalence of soil-transmitted helminth infections in the community is more than 50 percent. Also, community education and outreach tries to promote good hygiene.


More than 35 million people in the world have HIV. In the United States, that number is more than a million, and one in every six of those infected don’t know that they are infected, so they spread it unknowingly.

After the brutality and ignorance of the 1980s and early 1990s, the progress in the 2000s has been great, but it’s lulled many people into thinking that HIV/AIDS isn’t a problem anymore. People aren’t dying from AIDS immediately like they used to; they’re living for decades now if they have access to the current medications.


Polio was on its way to being eradicated worldwide, but 2014 has seen an unprecedented spread of it to new countries. The resurgence was caused by the Taliban prohibiting vaccinations in Pakistan and so it spread to Afghanistan.

Unlike Ebola, you can spread polio even if you don’t have symptoms, so vaccinating against it is key to stopping an outbreak. Although no cases have been reported in the United States for decades, with the current trend, where some parents don’t vaccinate their children, there is a chance it will re-emerge here, too.

Chagas Disease

This disease is transmitted through the feces of triatomine bugs that live in the cracks of poorly constructed homes in rural or suburban areas, and it affects 7 to 8 million people worldwide. It used to be limited just to Latin America, but has since been reported in the United States, Canada, and Europe.

Symptoms include difficulty breathing, abdominal pain, and even death in later stages. Although it can be treated, there is no vaccine, so vector control (eliminating the creatures that are responsible for spreading disease) is a key measure in prevention.

Early treatment is essential for those infected, because the cardiac disease that occurs in later stages can’t be cured. Great progress has been made in vector management since the 1990s in Latin America.