More funding is needed to guard against outbreaks

Nearly 20 years ago, author Richard Preston’s nonfiction book, “The Hot Zone,” told a horror story as disturbing as any make-believe tale. It was about a disease called Ebola and a narrow escape from an outbreak of it in the United States.

Since then, most people probably have not thought much about Ebola or other so-called “emerging diseases.” Except for occasional news reports about relatively small outbreaks of the disease in Africa, there does not seem to have been much reason to worry.

But the worst outbreak of Ebola ever recorded is in progress in West Africa. Nearly 800 deaths have been reported. Americans were being evacuated from four countries. Two already have contracted Ebola.

Sixty percent of Ebola patients die, often in agony. Contact with any bodily fluid, including sweat, from an Ebola sufferer can transmit the disease.

For a few years, U.S. officials seemed to have the right idea about Ebola and other emerging diseases. Funding for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention division responsible for such health threats increased or, at worst, remained stable.

But the division, which was budgeted for $390 million last year, was cut to $341 million this year.

Federal officials should reexamine their priorities. More funding needs to be provided to guard against Ebola and other deadly diseases, before a plague-like outbreak occurs.