The Math of Ebola

Source: http://www.npr.org/blogs/goatsandsoda/2014/09/18/349341606/why-the-math-of-the-ebola-epidemic-is-so-scary

In the past week, world leaders have started using a mathematical term when they talk about the Ebola epidemic in West Africa.

“It’s spreading and growing exponentially,” President Obama said Tuesday. “This is a disease outbreak that is advancing in an exponential fashion,” said Dr. David Nabarro, who is heading the U.N.’s effort against Ebola.

Students who have learnt how the exponential graph looks like will know that the exponential function grows extremely quickly. exponential graph

In fact, for large enough x, the exponential function e^x will be larger than any polynomial function, say x^{100}. For example, when x=700, e^{700}=1.01\times 10^{304}, while 700^{100}=3.23 \times 10^{284}.

Fortunately, there is some good news:

Before we all start panicking (which I have been working hard not to do, myself), the world did get some welcome news this week. On Tuesday, President Obama announced plans for the U.S. military to provide 1,700 hospital beds in West Africa. It will also help set up training facilities for health care workers.


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