Editorial: Ignorance fuels panic over Ebola
The Ebola virus has come to the United States. But unlike the nightmare scenarios concocted by bestselling novelists, this arrival has been carefully planned. Two U.S. citizens infected with the dangerous disease are now being treated at Emory University Hospital in Atlanta. Americans should be glad that these two are back and that they’re being treated here.
That’s right, glad. Because despite the outrageous misinformation being propagated on social media and whispered in the darker corners of the internet, no one in this country is at risk because of these moves.
The Ebola virus can only be spread through contact with bodily fluids. It can’t be transmitted through the air or water. This means it’s more along the lines of a disease like meningococcal meningitis, according to an expert quoted last week in the Philadelphia Inquirer. You don’t want to get it, in other words, but actually transmitting the disease is quite difficult.
The virus has recently killed some 800 in Africa, but that is connected to poor public health infrastructure and customs (such as families burying the bodies of the deceased) that increase risk of transmission. Even if an outbreak did come to the United States, it is very likely it would be contained in short order, with little loss of life.
As for the two health care workers being treated in Atlanta, they’re in a high-security ward created especially for those with highly infectious diseases. So it’s unlikely they will pose a threat to any of their caregivers or the public at large.
So why the concern? Why the grousing that our own citizens shouldn’t be welcomed back to their home country?
It comes down to misinformation, plain and simple. Too many movies and books about pandemics have conditioned people to think that deadly viruses spread easily and quickly. And too many websites are eager to gather clicks by playing to people’s fears rather than informing them about the facts of the situation. We have a perfect storm of fear and ignorance, and when the two combine it’s easy for charlatans to thrive.
If you’re unnerved by the recent news about Ebola, here are a couple of things you can do to protect yourself.
First of all, make sure to wear your seatbelt. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than half of those killed in car accidents weren’t wearing seatbelts at the time. More than 20,000 U.S. drivers and passengers die in traffic accidents each year. That means that wearing seatbelts could save some 10,000 lives a year in the United States – more than 12 times the number of lives lost recently to the Ebola virus.
Second, get a flu shot. According to the CDC, the flu can kill anywhere from 3,000 to 49,000 people a year in the United States, depending on the active strain. Even the lightest seasonal flu kills more than three times the number of people who have recently died of Ebola.
Perspective can be hard to come by when the world sometimes feels like one long emergency siren. But there is little to worry about with the recent Ebola outbreak, and even less to worry about with the transfer of these two patients to the United States.
We should be grateful to live in a country with the health infrastructure that we do and willing to take the simple, precautionary measures that truly protect us in our daily lives.