It seems like every time you turn on the news, you hear something about Ebola: The Texas victim has died. A sheriff's deputy has been hospitalized. He has Ebola! It's panic time!
Actually, no, it isn't. Depending on where you've been getting your facts on this disease, you may be operating on some gross misinformation. Why am I writing this? Because, quite frankly, I am sick and tired of reading about all the misinformation and outright lies I see being bandied about.
Consider the Sources
First, before we conquer how Ebola actually spreads and how, ahem, *fast* it spreads, let's discuss your "news" sources. Most of the lies the Centers for Disease Control, Department of Homeland Security and hospitals have been dealing with come from sources skilled in employing yellow journalism -- that is, sensationalized, hyped-up "news" meant to increase ratings, page views and... wait for it... panic.
Politicians are conflating Ebola, terrorism, and the U.S.-Mexico border so they can stoke the fears of their faithful constituents. U.S. Rep. Phil Gingrey (R-Georgia) sent a letter to the CDC, claiming knowledge of reports of illegal immigrants carrying one of several illnesses, including Ebola and crossing into the U.S. Other politicians include Newt Gingrich and Rep. Randy Weber (R-Texas). The theme of every one of their claims is similar: "Illegal immigrants sick with Ebola are crossing the border as we speak!" Instead of fearing innocent, scapegoated populations, we should be listening to the truth and calming ourselves down. In addition, we should be mourning the deaths of so many people.
The only common sense item that I have seen on social media (Facebook) is a list of the real facts -- how hard it is for Ebola to spread, how it spreads and how slowly it spreads. Add some news reports in there and I hear a few quiet voices pleading for calm. The U.S. isn't in the middle of a pandemic. Despite what some "news sources" and talking heads say, we aren't about to confront a spray of airborne Ebola germs around the next corner.
Some tweets have accused the U.S. government of deliberately exposing its citizens to the virus. Others say that Ebola has been inserted into vaccines -- this one comes from anti-vaxxers. I won't get into the misbegotten belief that Ebola originated in SOUTH Africa. It didn't. It started in Guinea (West Africa) in December, 2013 and has infected over 8,000 people.
Some questions raised on Twitter have been serious, such as how long the virus survives outside its host. Another question asks whether the virus can be killed through good sanitary practices and regular hand washing.
Honestly, which would you rather have? The truth, which tells you how to protect yourself? Wouldn't you rather know that Ebola can't be spread through the air? Or do you want to be given a reason to panic and hyperventilate?
Stigmatization of Some Populations
Several populations and countries are being stigmatized because of the presence of Ebola within their borders. For former residents of Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone now living in the U.S., the fears of stigmatization are very real. Some groups and politicians are advocating that anyone from these countries, sick or not, should not be allowed to come into the U.S. This won't work. These politicians are also saying that travel into these countries should be severely restricted, which means that aid workers, the U.S. military and medical personnel helping these citizens, cannot enter any of these countries.
Let's look at numbers in the U.S.: One man (Thomas Duncan) has been confirmed to have Ebola. He died on October 8, 2014. A second man, a sheriff's deputy, who came into contact with Duncan, has been admitted to the hospital after becoming ill. Fifty others who had contact with Duncan are under quarantine and being closely observed for signs of illness. At the first sign of any symptoms, they will be transported to a hospital for observation and possible treatment.
One issue is cause for concern: Duncan's family members are still in the apartment where Duncan stayed before being taken back to the hospital. Duncan's linens have not been removed from the apartment.
How Ebola Virus Is Really Spread
Let's clear up one huge misconception right here: Ebola cannot be spread by casual contact, shaking someone's hand or after inhaling airborne germs. Transmission requires coming into direct contact with bodily fluids, which include feces, saliva, sweat, urine and vomit.
This means that it is difficult for the virus to spread. While it seems to have spread with the speed of a wildfire in West African countries, because you have to come into contact with bodily fluids, this means that it cannot spread as quickly as the flu or measles.
Addressing the Myths
"It can't be stopped!" False. Previous outbreaks have been stopped much sooner. Officials didn't realize that Ebola had broken out in West Africa.
"It's airborne!" I covered that earlier. It's not airborne. While you can get sick if someone sneezes or coughs right into your face, this is rare.
"Everyone who gets Ebola dies!" No, they don't. Dr. Kent Brantley survived. In fact, close to half of the people who come down with Ebola actually do survive. Getting immediate medical care is vital to survival.
"It's easy to get Ebola!" No. Again, read up on how Ebola is transmitted. People who get Ebola aren't contagious until they develop symptoms. Here's a quick comparison:
I ask you one thing: The next time someone tries to get you panicked about Ebola, think about my blog. Tell them the real facts about this disease. Calm down.