PURCHASE, N.Y. -- An American's odds of dying from a gunshot wound or the flu this year are astronomically higher than from contracting Ebola, the president of Montefiore Health System told a gathering of business executives Monday.
Dr. Steven M. Safyer, guest speaker at The Business Council of Westchester's Leadership Conversations Series, asked the audience at Manhattanville College how many people had received a flu shot. About half the 150 people in the room raised their hands.
Because the seasonal flu can spread through the air, one ill person in the audience could infect 30 others, he said.
Ebola, while extremely deadly, has a life of 21 days and can only be spread through bodily fluids. That means, according to Safyer, it's an extremely "inefficient" disease in terms of longevity and wider casualties.
Influenza, meanwhile, kills more than 12,000 Americans in an average year, Safyer said, especially the young and old.
That's not to minimize the impact of Ebola, he said. But public's focus should be on stopping the deadly virus in West Africa before it becomes a global threat, he said.
Safyer has firsthand experience in dealing with public hysteria over fatal diseases. While training to become a doctor in 1978, Safyer treated some of the first AIDS patients. "The fear that permeated the air because of the unknown was one of the most dramatic of my career, of my professional life,'' he recalled.
While leading a medical program at Rickers Island in the 1980s, Safyer said he was faced with trying to help contain a tuberculosis outbreak. "We have a tendency, when there is fear, to blame the victims,'' he said.
"We're preparing as we should be,'' Safyer said of safeguarding against Ebola on American soil. He said he's proud Montefiore is one of New York's 12 regional centers for early diagnosis and treatment should there be a local Ebola outbreak.
"There is no question this is an aggressive illness,'' Safyer said of Ebola, but "something that kills you in 20 days is not exactly doing well from an evolutionary standpoint."
In contrast, 30,000 to 40,000 Americans die from gunshots each year, he said, a majority of those deaths due to suicide.
Ebola has killed nearly 5,000 people in eight countries through Oct. 23. according to the World Health Organization.
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