Anthony Fauci on Americans' Overblown Fear of Pandemics

A worker removes the contents of the apartment where a man diagnosed with the Ebola virus was staying in Dallas, Texas, in 2014.  (Jim Young / Reuters)
Editor’s Note: This article previously appeared in a different format as part of The Atlantic’s Notes section, retired in 2021.

Recalling the Ebola outbreak of 2014, Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergies and Infectious Diseases, lamented the attention lavished on the four patients who were diagnosed with the virus in the United States.

“The panic that that generated in this country diverted our effort and our attention from worrying about where the problem was,” which was in West Africa, Fauci said Friday at the Aspen Ideas Festival, which is co-hosted by the Aspen Institute and The Atlantic.

Fauci himself treated one of the American Ebola patients, and said his colleagues were skittish around him then, worried that they would contract the virus from him somehow, despite the fact that the virus is spread through bodily fluids and isn’t airborne.

“Your risk of dying on the [Capital] Beltway on the way to work at the NIH is thousands and thousands of times higher than the risk of getting Ebola from a health worker who treated a patient with Ebola,” he said he told them.

“The American public, I guess understandably, has an issue with the concept of a new risk,” he said. “You live with risks every day. [But] when a new risk comes in that’s far less risky than the risks that you’re living with, you get panicked about the new risk.”