Today you can’t watch the news on television or visit a news outlet’s website without reading something fresh on the Ebola virus and the danger it poses to the American population. Indeed, if someone only recently decided to tune in to the news, he would be under the impression that Ebola was an epidemic running rampant across the nation. Googling Ebola yields words like “fear,” “crisis,” “anxiety,” “panic” and “outbreak” abundantly in the headlines. I understand that views make ad revenue, but it’s time to cease the fear mongering.
Ebola, to be fair, has proved to be a major public health crisis — just not for Americans. Western Africa continues to be plagued by the disease, which presents a major problem because there are issues treating the disease, even with international aid. In fact, allowing a flow of aid workers from the U.S. to Western Africa is one of the reasons given by U.S. President Barack Obama for not sealing off all travel to and from that region. In order to feel secure in America about Ebola, outbreaks in Africa must be quelled. Allowing workers to spend their time treating outbreaks overseas is necessary in order to stop the disease at its source.
What is in store for us at home? Thus far, three people have contracted the disease on U.S. soil, with one ensuing fatality. Dozens of others have been quarantined so that they may be monitored. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), due to criticisms of its original Ebola protocols, has issued new guidelines that place greater emphasis on protecting hospital personnel. Obama has even assigned an Ebola czar, some airports are screening passengers flying in from certain destinations and the military is putting together an Ebola task force for quick responses to future cases.
This may all sound grave, but keep in mind that most of these actions are precautionary measures. Despite what the news would have you believe, the domestic Ebola threat has not yet matched the level of an emergency. The fact that we are preparing for a sudden outbreak of Ebola does not mean that contagion is imminent. Ebola is an unusual disease to treat — our response to this virus has not been tested on this scale in the past. It is understandable that CDC procedures may have had to be revised or that Texas hospitals may not have infallibly treated Ebola patients. We have been placed in a novel situation. Rest assured, though, that our situation will not approach the severity of the epidemic in Africa; we have the facilities, means of communication and manpower to fight this disease endogenously. And, to cover a crucial but under-addressed point, we all recognize that the Ebola virus definitely exists. There are sections of Africa, on the other hand, that do not understand the nature of disease or how it is spawned and are wary of anybody who attempts to solve the problem using modern medical resources.
The media is hyper-focused on Ebola because it makes for more engaging reporting than the multitude of health concerns that have been around here for decades. Obesity, heart disease, mental health, yearly strains of flu or parents who idiotically refuse to get their children vaccinated — to name but a few other possible issues — are not as exciting to discuss and speculate about as a disease from Africa that kills quickly yet presents itself as a multitude of commonplace symptoms. And this will be true for the foreseeable future. We must be careful while processing this constant Ebola news coverage. The irony of news outlets’ attempts to inform the public about Ebola is that incessant reporting could place people in a somewhat comparable position to many of those in Africa. That is, we may begin to misunderstand the disease. In our case, for example, we could come to think that the disease is utterly unstoppable or that it’s transmitted far more easily than in actuality. Too much coverage may certainly help perpetuate public nervousness.
Moreover, potentially fueling the misunderstanding of Ebola and its likely impact is the endless political bickering that has arisen surrounding responses to the virus. (Should we have expected anything less with midterm elections coming soon?) Politicians have found a wellspring of new talking points and stances to take regarding what they feel is the best way to respond to the disease. They are taking this opportunity to polarize public health developments along party lines. More despicably, there is now at least one political ad that attacks Republicans for budget cuts that allegedly affected the CDC’s research on the virus, as if the GOP foresaw the arrival of Ebola and decided to gamble with people’s lives.
Regardless of where you stand politically, this is a sordid tactic. Fear is a powerful motivator, however, and those in Washington, D.C. will play up the Ebola situation’s severity in order to win over voters. One must always keep their wits about them while navigating the political maelstrom.
Overall, Ebola is a threat to health in this nation. That being said, do not panic because of what the media or politicians are saying. Look instead to medical experts and more objective disease information. The best road toward containing Ebola starts when we actually understand it. Don’t let public hysteria become another disease symptom.
Alex Yahanda is pursuing his Master’s in Biotechnology. He is from Atlanta.