Nowadays, AIDS is considered to be the most dangerous pandemic due to the number of related deaths and new cases occurring annually. However, recently there has emerged a seemingly more threatening virus that has grabbed international attention due to its rapid escalation in West Africa and an ever increasing death toll. Although Ebola was discovered in the 1970s, its previous outbreaks were limited in terms of the territorial scope and could not affect a large number of people thanks to timely containment. The recent outbreak in Sierra Leone, Liberia, and their neighboring countries to a lesser extent has revealed that the Ebola virus may be more dangerous and threatening to the world than previously thought due to a variety of factors. Based on a brief comparative overview of AIDS and Ebola, it may be hypothesized that the latter virus holds the potential of becoming a cause of a new deadly pandemic and should be considered as more dangerous than AIDS.
At the first glance, it may seem that the two viruses under consideration are quite similar in some respects and this similarity may serve as a basis for a subsequent comparison of their differences and assessment of which of the two should be deemed more dangerous. Hence, both AIDS and Ebola are viruses that emerged in Africa and have been initially transferred to human beings from animals, supposedly via consumption of infected meat (Heitz). It means that hosts of the viruses are animals even though only AIDS have known transmitters (Heitz). In turn, researchers still do not know what animals or insects host and transmit Ebola despite their unproved assumptions that these may be fruit bats. Neither of the two viruses has an effective vaccine that can for sure guarantee that a person will not get infected. Both of them are fatal unless patients receive treatment in a timely and effective manner. Both viruses also get transmitted through bodily fluids, yet not the same ones. Moreover, there are some similarities in the stigmatization of the viruses, as well as of surviving patients who are regarded by the society as outcasts. Finally, both viruses were discovered virtually at the same time, in the late 20th century, yet Ebola’s first outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo was recorded in 1976 (American Society for Microbiology). In turn, AIDS was diagnosed and defined as a separate deadly virus affecting the immune system and rendering people defenseless in the face of all diseases, inflammations, and viruses in Los Angeles in the 1980s (Groopman). AIDS was initially defined as a virus that spread only among homosexuals, which was not accurate, yet still contributed significantly to its subsequent stigmatization and social exclusion of patients. Nonetheless, the above similarities are quite general in nature and the viruses display some prominent differences that should be taken into consideration when comparing them.
Despite the above similarities and the currently different scope of the virus spread in the global context, Ebola may be considered as more dangerous than AIDS due to several reasons. First of all, the death rate in the form of percentage of the dead to the infected is much higher for Ebola than for AIDS. In many respects, Ebola remains a mysterious disease in terms of why some people get infected upon instant contact with bodily fluids of a sick individual, while others remain immune to the virus (Belluz). According to some sources, Ebola kills almost 90% of all infected individuals within a short period of time and their death is extremely painful (American Society for Microbiology). The more recent estimations claim that Ebola kills about 75% of all infected persons and a decrease in the percentage has been caused by the response of medical professionals and the world during the 2014-2015 outbreak in West Africa. The matter is that there is still no single cure against Ebola and patients have to receive a wide range of various medications aimed at alleviating symptoms and preventing organ failure. One of the most hazardous symptoms of Ebola is the fact that blood stops clotting, which results in internal bleeding and oozing blood from noses, eyes, noses, and mouths (American Society for Microbiology). In addition to bleeding, patients suffer from fever and frequent if not constant vomiting and diarrhea, which results in the essential loss of fluids that have to be replenished with a view to preventing death. Hence, Ebola patients have to be given separate medications against all these symptoms almost immediately after the moment they start manifesting the first symptoms. Nonetheless, even this does not guarantee that the patient will survive Ebola and in case the person does survive, there is no guarantee that the person will not develop long-term problems with health and side-effects of numerous aggressive medications taken.
In turn, AIDS is a fatal disease caused by a retrovirus called HIV or Human Immunodeficiency Virus that “permanently inserts a DNA copy of its genome into a host cell, hijacking the cell’s machinery for its own purposes” (Groopman). It quickly mutates and resists treatment from one medication, which is why patients have to take a cocktail of various medications that speed up aging and may result in organ failure in some instances. Besides, HIV can lie dormant inside long-lived cells, hence avoiding the effect of drugs targeting active virus cells while being safely tucked away in the so-called “vital reservoir” (Groopman). However, the contemporary medicine has been rather effective in creating HIV-treatments and people infected with the virus can live for decades almost without any problems if they follow their treatment regimens. Antiretroviral drugs have become extremely effective and efficient in terms of their capacity to block virus replication and researchers have to come up with a way to eliminate the viral reservoir in order to find a cure to the disease (Groopman). Many HIV-infected individuals lead full lives when taking drugs and do not feel limited in terms of their daily functioning. One of such patients has summed up their overall experience by writing that “I am probably more likely to be hit by a truck than to die of AIDS” (Groopman). Furthermore, researchers are optimistic about finding a cure to the disease in the future due to availability of a wide range of multidisciplinary international studies with promising results. Even though they fail to find an ultimate cure to AIDS, they are sure about their ability to develop drugs and treatment methods that would take patients off life-long treatment plans by ensuring extensive periods of remission and minimal impact on internal organs (Groopman).
Of course, opponents of the thesis promoted herein claim that AIDS is more dangerous than Ebola, which is proved by statistics. According to the cited statistics, 35 million people in the world live with HIV and millions of them die on annual basis due to the lack of funds for medications and inability to access competent healthcare systems since 70% of all infected live in poor countries of sub-Saharan Africa where the spread of the virus continues (Lomborg). Moreover, they emphasize that “There is no one that imagines that we’re going to see tens of millions of people infected with Ebola” (Stobbe). Nonetheless, this statistics seems to prove almost nothing if to take into account the nature of epidemics of the two viruses and their death rates. Hence, the reason why millions of people die from AIDS consists not in the absence of effective treatment or preventive measures that can ensure that HIV does not develop in AIDS, but rather in the financial aspect of the issue. As mentioned above, the overwhelming majority of HIV-infected people live in poor countries with substandard healthcare systems, which can afford providing all the infected with required drugs and contraception means so that further transmission of the virus by sex is prevented. In turn, even when treated with the most contemporary drugs, there is no guarantee that an Ebola patient will survive. Recent separate deadly cases of Ebola infection recorded in highly developed countries with supposedly superb healthcare systems like the USA and Germany prove this fact. In addition, the WHO’s worst-case scenario of the Ebola outbreak development states that about 1.7 million of Africans could get infected by the end of 2015 (World Health Organization). Although these disastrous numbers might be deemed averted thanks to local initiatives and international response to the epidemics, more than 10,000 people died within the first few months of the outbreak (World Health Organization). This number may be even higher as many Africans do not trust the officials and therefore fail to report instances of infection and death (Mogelson).
Ebola is also more dangerous than AIDS due to its rapid spread and modes of contamination. According to Dr. Tom Frieden who is the director of the US CDC, “In the 30 years I’ve been working in public health, the only thing like this has been AIDS…We have to work now so this is not the world’s next AIDS” (Heitz). HIV can be transmitted only by blood and other fluids exchanged during the sexual intercourse, while Ebola gets transmitted by all kinds of fluids even in minute amounts. Moreover, both dead and alive patients can transmit the disease, which makes it extremely dangerous with respect to its spread. Hence, Ebola may be deemed more infectious than AIDS as “a patient in the throes of Ebola can have 10 billion viral particles in a fifth of a teaspoon of blood – far more than the 50,000 to 100,000 particles seen in an untreated patient with the AIDS virus” (Stobbe). Some skeptics claim that avoiding direct contact with fluids of an Ebola patient will ensure that others do not get infected, yet there are known cases when residents of the same house got infected despite their best efforts to avoid contact with the infected as even one drop of a sick person’s bodily fluid is enough (Mogelson). Besides, Ebola seems to exploit and proliferate upon human weaknesses and a tendency to emphasize with others, as well as people’s need to care for their beloved ones (Mogelson). This fact makes Ebola more dangerous as it can spread more quickly and easily than AIDS with no containment measures being considered as bullet proof in this case.
Stigmatization is another problem associated with the viruses under consideration, yet it receives more hazardous proportions in case of Ebola. The matter is that people with HIV can lead almost normal lives with the exception of the need to take prescribed drugs and be careful with their sex contacts. Otherwise, they are allowed to keep their diagnosis in secret and do not have to suffer from daily stigmatization and social isolation. There is no such opportunity with Ebola patients and survivors. When a person is suspected of having contracted Ebola, he/she will be either shunned by relatives and have a high likelihood of being feared by medical practitioners, especially in poor African countries where doctors and nurses may lack the required protective suits and necessary medications or being cared by the family, meanwhile infecting them all and feeling guilty for their death. Survivors are avoided at all costs as well since their neighbors, friends, and even close relatives fear Ebola and suppose that these individuals still carry the virus. Of course, these fears are unjustified as currently it is believed that Ebola survivors are immune to the virus, but stigmatization, social isolation, and related consequences like the lack of employment for men and food or housing for women and orphans persist (Mogelson).
Finally, Ebola is more dangerous than AIDS because of its largely under-researched nature and a recently detected ability to mutate. Nowadays, it seems that researchers know everything there is to know about HIV and AIDS in terms of their origin, causes, mutation, location in the body, symptoms, and other essential features, while the only thing they do not know is how to cure the disease without killing the patient in the process (Groopman). Ebola, on the contrary, is full of mysteries that are not likely to be solved in the nearest future because of the lack of financial resources and underestimated threat of the virus that is conventionally deemed to be less deadly than AIDS, malaria, or tuberculosis (Lomborg). At the same time, some researchers point out that Ebola has significantly mutated since the time of its first outbreaks and now is more infectious and deadly than ever with a capacity of mutating further (Belluz). So far, there are no predictions about Ebola becoming airborne, but the history shows that human beings have a tendency to provoke significant mutations of viruses that they study, making them deadlier in the process like it has happened with influenza. Therefore, the unknown character of the Ebola threat and no clear forecasts about its mutation and development make it more dangerous than well-known and well-studied HIV.
Withal, it seems that researchers, medical practitioners, and the media are worried about the future of the Ebola outbreak, but they tend to consider it to be a problem of West Africa rather than the world in general. Thus, their studies often ignore rapid globalization and interconnectedness of the world, which means that one Ebola patient can travel to a densely populated country within a period of few hours and unknowingly become the zero patient of a large-scale epidemic. Of course, currently Ebola is unlikely to turn into a pandemic disease like AIDS, but its high level of infectiousness and countless mysteries make it more dangerous than HIV that has been studied in-depth and is predicted to be cured or sent into remission in the future.