Remember when Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) suggested that you could get Ebola at a cocktail party?
Now, Paul and several other politicians are getting called out for spreading exaggerations about Ebola: PolitiFact has just given the hyperbolic warnings the distinct honor of being the 2014 "Lie of the Year".
Two people in the United States died of the disease, but politicians and pundits made several claims about the virus that were unsubstantiated by any evidence. In total, PolitiFact said that it rated 16 different claims about Ebola as "mostly false," "false," or "Pants-on-Fire." PolitiFact also noted that 10 of the claims came in October, shortly before the midterm elections.
The offenders include Paul, who incorrectly said that Ebola was "incredibly contagious" and that it was possible to get Ebola from someone standing just three feet away from you. In reality, Ebola is transmitted through direct contact with bodily fluids.
Several members of Congress claimed that undocumented immigrants were carrying Ebola across the southern border of the United States or posed the risk of doing so. Experts interviewed by PolitiFact said that the likelihood of Central American children bringing the disease, which originated in Africa, was "almost non-existent."
While these politicians may be responsible for spreading untrue information, the CDC also struggled to communicate information about Ebola. The agency had to revise its website to more clearly communicate that Ebola was not an airborne disease.
Misperceptions about the disease also had real consequences for public policy. In October, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) required that all travelers that had direct contact with Ebola patients be placed in a mandatory 21-day quarantine. Critics said that the policy was overly-aggressive and rooted more in fear about the disease than in science.
While politicians exaggerated the extent of the Ebola outbreak in the United States, the disease continues to pose a serious threat in West Africa. According to The New York Times, more than 18,000 people have contracted the disease in Guinea, Liberia, Mali, Nigeria, Senegal and Sierra Leone since March.