What can history teach us about Ebola?

A U-M medical historian offers lessons from past outbreaks to put today’s news in perspective

Ellis Island screening

Today’s airport Ebola screenings are a long way off from the medical exams at Ellis Island 100 years ago

The constant stream of news about Ebola right now is enough to scare anyone.

Whether it’s the epidemic in West Africa, the isolated cases in the U.S. and Europe, the impact on travelers, or the search for new treatments and vaccines, the headlines just keep coming at us.

But a U-M doctor and medical historian says it’s time to step back, and get some perspective on the situation.

After all, says Howard Markel, M.D., Ph.D., we’ve all been here before, and history teaches us a great deal about how societies respond to epidemics and handle the fears associated with them. Markel directs the U-M Center for the History of Medicine, and is a professor in the U-M Medical School, School of Public Health and Department of History.

Q: The scary headlines come at us constantly. How concerned should the average American be?

A: You should pay attention, certainly, but, at this point in time, there’s no need to get into the frenzy about Ebola in the United States. We all need to take a breath and do a reality check.

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The 2013 flu shot: What’s new and why get it now

Heart attack protection, egg-free formula and more

flu-shotNow is a great time to roll up your sleeve because the flu vaccine takes two weeks to kick in, says Dr. Pamela  Rockwell, D.O., a family physician at the University of Michigan Health System who is fellowship-trained in vaccine science. Everyone 6 months of age and older is recommended to get their yearly flu vaccine, ideally by October.

More must-know flu season information

Some of this year’s vaccine covers more strains.  New this year, many vaccines cover four strains of flu — the ones believed to be the most common in the upcoming flu season — but some include just three. Translation: broader protection. One vaccine isn’t recommended over another. The important thing is to get a flu vaccine every year.

Protection against heart attacks? A flu shot greatly reduces the risk of being hospitalized or dying from flu complications, plus new research shows flu vaccine may lessen the risk of heart attack. As reported online in Heart, those who were vaccinated were 45% less likely to have an acute myocardial infarction (heart attack).

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