Uh-Oh, America's Top Health Official Is Comparing Ebola to AIDS

As the death toll rises, health officials urge drastic action to contain the Ebola virus.

(Photo: Tami Chappell/Reuters)

Oct 9, 2014· 1 MIN READ
Samantha Cowan is an associate editor for culture.

When it comes to terrifying illnesses that have circled the globe, can an apples-to-apples comparison be made between AIDS and Ebola?

Thomas Frieden, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, compared the two deadly ailments when he spoke at the World Bank on Thursday, The Washington Post reports.

"In the 30 years I've been working in public health, the only thing like this has been AIDS," Frieden said.

Similarities between how the two diseases, which don't have cures, completely bewilder a helpless public are likely the root of Frieden’s comparison. Like Ebola, little was known about AIDS when it surfaced in the late 1970s; the lack of information contributed to poor care and the spread of the illness.

By the time the virus drew the attention of world leaders, many didn’t grasp how HIV and AIDS could be slowed down. The Reagan administration once referred to the disease as “nature's revenge on gay men.”

Large swaths of the population in West Africa deny Ebola’s existence, believing it to be a government hoax.

Of course, there are many differences between the two viruses: For one, Ebola cannot be spread until an infected person shows symptoms, whereas a person with HIV can transmit the virus without presenting any signs.

Approximately 75 million people have been infected with HIV since the epidemic started, and an estimated 36 million people have died from AIDS-related illnesses.

The U.S. faced its first Ebola fatality with the death of Thomas Eric Duncan on Wednesday. More than 3,000 people have died from the disease in West Africa, where lack of medical treatment and poor infrastructure have led to rampant contagion. The CDC estimates that the number of cases could reach 1.4 million in Liberia and Sierra Leone by the end of January.

“We have to work now so that this is not the world’s next AIDS,” Frieden added.