In 2014, an Ebola outbreak in West Africa captured headlines for months. The United States watched closely as eleven people were treated for Ebola at home, after being exposed or coming down with the illness while abroad. Naturally, many people began to worry about their children being exposed to this deadly virus.
They were probably putting their worry in the wrong place.
In fact, with just a few cases in the country, the number of people potentially affected by Ebola is tiny, currently numbering in the hundreds at most. Instead, parents would be better off making sure their children are protected from the true dangers of childhood, including:
1. Influenza. During the annual fall and winter flu season, thousands of children are infected annually with this serious viral illness. Flu symptoms include headache, fatigue, and fever, but the disease can progress into a serious illness. Depending on the year, the flu is responsible for between 3,000 and 49,000 deaths a year in the United States, including pediatric deaths. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), everyone older than 6 months of age should get a flu vaccine.
2. SIDS. Although the numbers have dropped dramatically over the past two decades, sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) still claims about 3,000 infants’ lives each year. The causes of SIDS remain unknown, but parents can significantly lower the risk of SIDS by following the AAP recommendations, including putting your infant to sleep on his or her back, not co-sleeping, avoiding any soft, fluffy items in your child’s crib, and putting babies to sleep on a firm mattress intended for infants.
3. Drowning. Drowning is a serious issue among children under the age of 4, claiming as many as 1,000 lives each year. Drowning can happen in swimming pools, lakes and oceans, and bathtubs, toilets, washing machines, and buckets. Parental supervision of children near water is critical at all times.
4. Traffic accidents. Although the roads have gotten safer in the last decade, traffic fatalities still cause more than 9,000 deaths among children aged 12 and younger every year. Installing and using carseats and booster seats incorrectly remains a major issue in the United States. According to research presented in October at the annual meeting of the AAP, 93 percent of families make at least one carseat error prior to leaving the hospital with their newborn.
5. Vaccine preventable illnesses. According to the CDC, there have been nearly 600 measles cases documented this year alone in the United States. That is the highest number of measles cases since it was eliminated in the US in the year 2000. Unlike Ebola, which is spread by direct contact with infected bodily fluids, measles is spread via respiratory droplets, making it significantly more contagious. The measles virus can remain alive for up to two hours on surfaces such as doorknobs and table tops.
Why aren’t there more diseases on the list? Thanks to modern immunization, many of the most dreaded and dangerous childhood diseases—diphtheria, polio, and even influenza—can be prevented. So make sure your kids’ immunizations are up to date.
Reviewed by Dr. Sara Connolly, January 2020
- Every year, nearly 3,000 infants die from SIDS.
- Everyone older than 6 months of age should get a flu vaccine.
- Drowning and traffic fatalities claim more than 10,000 children’s lives every year.