Ebola. The exotic-sounding five-letter word has been making its way into Americans’ everyday conversations since September 29th, when 42-year-old Thomas Duncan became the first person to be diagnosed with Ebola virus on US soil. It was soon determined that as a result of an accidental hospital release, he had potentially infected at least ten other people in the Dallas, TX area. The news of a deadly virus having snuck its way into the US caused something of a mild panic, which was only intensified by American media.
As news of Duncan’s diagnosis spread, so did the growing rumors. (Example: “Ebola is an airborne illness!” False.) Reports emerged of parents pulling children out of Dallas-area schools for fear of Ebola. Major news outlets dramatized the potential spread of the virus. When Duncan succumbed to the disease on October 8th, the Ebola craze grew from somewhat of a dull roar to a shrill scream.
Now, with one death and three other confirmed Ebola diagnoses on American soil, the media is continuing to blow the virus’ potential impact on American lives way out of proportion, and it’s getting plenty of help from conservative political pundits.
Senator Rand Paul (R-Ky.) seemed to think that his history as an ophthalmologist gave him the authority to declare Ebola as “incredibly transmissible.” “If someone is sitting next to you with Ebola and coughs, you can catch it,” he said in an interview with CNN. Paul also told conservative radio host Laura Ingraham that Americans should be worried about the return of the 3,000 American soldiers sent to provide relief in West Africa. “You also have to be concerned about 3,000 soldiers getting back on a ship….Can you imagine if a whole ship full of our soldiers catch Ebola?”
The hype about Ebola far outweighs the actual risk of getting the disease. Ebola’s domination of the news cycle probably has more to do with the fear that it inspires — yes, the mortality rate is greater than 70 percent, and yes, the disease ravages the immune system like no other disease this generation of Americans has ever seen. However, the average American’s risk of contracting Ebola is considerably lower than the risk of getting, say, the common cold or influenza. Salon.com columnist Andrew O’Hehir likens Ebola to a great white shark: the chances of encountering one are profoundly low, but so are your chances of surviving such a meeting.
Unfortunately, the media’s insatiable obsession with coverage of Ebola doesn’t include such analogies. Talk radio host Michael Savage alleged that this was all a scheme, concocted by none other than President Barack Obama, to infect America. “There is not a sane reason to take three or four thousand troops and send them into a hot Ebola zone,” he said, “without expecting at least one of them to come back with Ebola, unless you want to infect the nation with Ebola.”
A considerably large factor in the relative general panic about Ebola are the major misconceptions about how to contract the disease, where it’s located in America, and how it’s spreading. Here are just a few:
- MYTH: Ebola is airborne, waterborne, or can be spread through casual contact.
- FACT: Ebola virus can only be spread by coming into contact with the bodily fluids of an infected person.
- MYTH: Immigrants from Latin America will bring Ebola to the US.
- FACT: The U.S. Office of Refugee Resettlement told nwi.com that none of the 30,340 unaccompanied minors released to relatives or sponsors in the US this year have Ebola.
- MYTH: Ebola liquefies your internal organs, which is what causes bleeding from the orifices.
- FACT: Ebola can cause bleeding from orifices in the late stages of the disease, but that only happens in 20% of cases, according to Dr. Nahid Bhadelia, M.D., in an interview with The Huffington Post. Ebola does not liquefy the organs; it causes multi-organ failure and extreme shock.
While a deadly viral disease like Ebola is indeed something to treat with caution, there is no need for panic. Obama is not trying to infect Americans, shiploads of soldiers are not contracting the disease, and the CDC is working every day, training nurses, doctors, and volunteers how to properly prepare to treat this disease. Unfortunately, American media is telling a different story, and hysteria-inducing reports continue to emerge every day.