In a world where a gruesome virus is claiming more victims by the day in West Africa, how do we continue to behave like rational human beings? Hint: not by locking people in bathrooms.
Yes, Ebola is a real threat that must be taken seriously. But more and more, we're seeing logical, science-backed responses give way to behavior fueled by our primal fears. So here we present some common-sense guidelines on handling the threat of Ebola in the U.S. -- because apparently someone needs to.
DO: Remember that Africa is a huge continent home to more than 1 billion people, and there have been about 10,000 cases of Ebola.
DON'T: Attack Africans with Ebola-related slurs.
Student soccer players at one Pennsylvania high school are facing possible disciplinary action after taunting an African opponent with Ebola-related insults. Vulgarity aside, the opposing player was at the same risk of contracting the virus as anyone else on the field, having moved to the U.S. three years ago. (A reminder: The incubation period for Ebola is 21 days.)
A New York City organization is also calling for justice on behalf of two Senegalese boys whom it says were recently beaten and called "Ebola" by classmates. Earlier this month, two Rwandan students newly enrolled in a New Jersey elementary school were forced to stay home after hysterical parents discovered their nationality -- even though Rwanda has not been affected by the virus. The University of South Florida St. Petersburg has also told 14 African journalists scheduled to visit that they would not be welcome on campus due to Ebola fears.
Meanwhile, European officials have warned of a possible uptick in Ebola-related racial profiling. Not a good look for anyone.
DO: Help promote the facts about Ebola.
DON'T: Be this person.
Lady just chilling at Dulles in her homemade Hazmat suit pic.twitter.com/Ljlny8t4pr
— Joe Henchman (@jdhenchman) October 15, 2014
Or the Louisville, Kentucky resident who confined herself to her home with her loved ones earlier this month, telling The New York Times, "We're not really going anywhere if we can help it." She was worried about the threat of Ebola after hearing reports of an infected nurse flying to Cleveland from Dallas -- two cities that are hundreds of miles from where she lives.
DO: Thank the doctors and volunteers returning from fighting Ebola in Africa.
DON'T: Jump to conclusions about health care workers who contracted the virus.
ABSOLUTELY NO SYMPATHY for a doctor who knows he's been in contact w/Ebola, goes bowling, takes 2 subways, has contact with girl, Uber. none
— ericbolling (@ericbolling) October 24, 2014
Dr. Craig Spencer, the New York City doctor diagnosed with Ebola earlier this month, has been widely criticized for traveling around the city on public transportation, even though he was not displaying symptoms at the time. But Spencer followed all the rules laid out by Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) upon returning from Guinea, where he'd been working with Ebola patients. MSF protocol did not mandate self-quarantine, a step that medical experts have also deemed unnecessary and harmful -- since the onset of fever precedes Ebola's contagious stage, noticing a fever gives an infected person time to get to a hospital. (The CDC has since tweaked its recommendations to include voluntary self-quarantine out of an abundance of caution.)
Nurse Kaci Hickox, who recently tested negative for the virus after returning from West Africa and being involuntarily quarantined in New Jersey for three days, has also been criticized by some for speaking out against the tented quarantine that violated expert-recommended protocol for people recently returned from infected regions.
DO: Realize that people are scared of deadly viruses.
DON'T: Make bad jokes about having a deadly virus in public spaces.
There have been more bad Ebola jokes than we can count. Earlier this month, a Los Angeles bus passenger yelled, "Don't mess with me -- I have Ebola!" and prompted a police investigation. Another man joked that he was infected on a plane headed to the Dominican Republic, to the amusement of no one. An Ohio teenager was arrested after claiming to have Ebola on an Allegiant Air flight. The virus makes everybody nervous, even scientists trained to research it, so using it to cause mass panic is both easy and stupid.
DO: Understand that Ebola symptoms may be similar (at first) to common illnesses like the flu.
DON'T: Be afraid of people who get sick around you. People get sick all the time.
Initial symptoms of Ebola may include nausea and fever -- symptoms also associated with the flu. But coughing and sneezing aren't typically indicative of Ebola. Furthermore, unless a person has recently visited Guinea, Sierra Leone or Liberia; has been in contact with a person who recently visited those countries; or is a health care worker who has cared for an Ebola patient, their likelihood of having Ebola is very, very slim.
Again out of an abundance of caution, health officials have been called to check out several flights in recent weeks due to passengers with Ebola-like symptoms. But the people on one American Airlines flight from Dallas to Chicago may have gone way, way too far. Flight attendants allegedly locked a sick woman in one of the plane's bathrooms out of fear that she may have had Ebola, according to witnesses. Whether the woman had recently visited West Africa is not clear, though that might have been good to ascertain before cramming her into a lavatory.
DO: Know that only a few countries on a massive continent are experiencing an Ebola epidemic.
DON'T: Ostracize or shame people who have simply been to some part of Africa.
At my wife's clinical practice they're afraid she might infect them with Ebola since I've just returned from South Africa #OnlyInAmerica
— Zakes Mda (@ZakesMda) October 3, 2014
Of the more than 1 billion people living on the African continent, only those in Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia have been at risk of Ebola. But that didn't stop a crowd of parents from pulling their children out of a Mississippi middle school earlier this month because the principal had recently returned from Zambia. Here is a helpful map showing how far Zambia is from the area affected by Ebola. Parents in Oklahoma pulled a similar stunt this week after pressuring a grade-school teacher to stay home for three weeks following a trip to Rwanda, another country that has not been affected by the virus.
DO: Remember that only four people have been diagnosed with Ebola in the U.S.
DON'T: Punish someone for having been near a city where there was an Ebola patient.
One poor teacher in Maine was put on leave after returning from a trip to Dallas, where Thomas Eric Duncan was being treated for Ebola and where two nurses subsequently contracted it from him. As we know,
the entire city of Dallas is now an Ebola hot zone Dallas is now Ebola-free. A helpful reminder of all the ways one might actually contract Ebola is available here.