According to a new Harvard-backed study, 40 percent of Americans, regardless of
education, believe there will be a large outbreak of Ebola in the United States.
This shows a clear misunderstanding of the nature of Ebola, as it is not highly contagious, especially in developed countries with adequate infrastructure.
What may account for this doomsday belief is our pop
culture fascination with the next “big one,” leading to the success of movies like “Contagion” and “I am Legend.” It follows that the public should probably brace themselves now for a thinly veiled feature film centered on the threat of a strangely Ebola-like hemorrhagic disease.
Now that Ebola is in the U.S., the engine of fear is operating at full capacity. The media warned the public that, at first, tens and then hundreds of people came into contact with the mysterious man who arrived in Dallas – as if mere contact is somehow critical.
Ebola is not an airborne
illness like Tuberculosis or even the Flu (which, by the way, kills over 1,500 people every year, according the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention – are you scared yet?), and those around the man would have to have been exposed to his bodily fluids.
In short, Ebola is in no way the Plague. It is containable and fixable.
The question then is why the developed world did not begin fixing it sooner. As the deaths piled up in Africa, it seemed that no one really cared, regardless of the tragic headlines slapped on newspapers, until Dr. Kent Brantly arrived in Atlanta.
With Brantly’s case of Ebola, the threat was suddenly real. He was portrayed by some as almost a potential “Patient 0,” the first person to get an illness in a population before it spreads. In reality, because America has more than adequate infrastructure, his case was contained and he improved dramatically under intensive care.
The danger in all of this is the potential for a xenophobic and isolationist response. There are already major figures, such as Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, calling for a travel ban from all infected countries. Before Jindal, there were common people who did not want Brantly admitted to the Atlanta hospital based on the supposed threat he posed to
The truth is that Ebola posed a threat long before Brantly was admitted, though not to Americans. It was a threat to Liberians, and then Sierra Leoneans, Nigerians, and now the people of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The awful truth is that we don’t care about these countries – and some treat missionaries like Brantly as pariahs for risking their lives to care for the unfortunate.
Ebola is serious because it is painful, deadly and real.
But it was long before it was in the news every day. This is not the first outbreak and, sadly, it probably won’t be the last – and yet this is the first time many Americans are hearing about the disease. But the dangers shouldn’t obscure this as just one isolated result of ignoring the suffering of developing nations.