Ebola in America


A Liberian man is the first person to be diagnosed with the deadly Ebola virus on US soil. So how did he arrive undetected and what are the risks to Americans? (BBC)

Use our resources to understand how maps can be used as tools to help solve problems.

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Discussion Ideas

  • Read through our excellent activity “Mapping A London Epidemic.” Adapt its themes to apply to Ebola’s entry to the United States. For example:
    • What might we find out from mapping where people with Ebola live or travel?
      • Scientists and medical experts may be able to track the disease and quarantine its victims before it spreads any further.
    • Look at John Snow’s famous map of a 19th-century cholera outbreak in London, England—it’s the third slide in the activity. Now look at the map of Dallas, Texas, above, tracking the movement of Thomas Duncan, “patient zero” of Ebola victims in the United States. What is the critical difference between the two maps?
      • One uses victims to map a disease (cholera), the other uses a disease (Ebola) to map possible victims. Snow used maps to estimate the source of a disease (a water pump) by using the locations of known infections. Modern health-care officials work from just the opposite knowledge: They know “patient zero” and are estimating his movements to track possible infections that have not been reported.



  • How soon was he diagnosed?
    • Duncan started displaying symptoms about a week after he arrived at his family’s home in Dallas in mid-September. When he first went to the hospital, he was not screened for Ebola and sent home. This was a crucial mistake, as Duncan remained infectious and unmonitored for three or four days.


  • Has Thomas Duncan committed a crime?
    • No. Duncan may have lied on his Liberian airport questionnaire about coming into contact with Ebola-infected people, but he certainly had no idea he had the disease and no intention to spread it. He is fighting for his life in a hospital; he and his family do not deserve social stigma.


  • How many people have been infected in the Dallas area?
    • None, although Duncan’s family has been quarantined and officials are monitoring as many as 100 people who may have come into contact with him.


  • Are Americans now at risk for an Ebola outbreak similar to what western Africa is dealing with?
    • No. The sanitation and health care available in the U.S. are much stronger and interconnected than those in the developing world.



BBC News article: Ebola crisis: How did the virus get into the US?

NG activity: Mapping A London Epidemic

NG blog: All About Ebola

NG MapMaker Interactive: Dallas, Texas (with Ebola sites of interest)

New York Times graphics: Retracing the Steps of the Dallas Ebola Patient

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