It’s contagious, and it’s spreading fast.
No, not Ebola. We’re talking about Ebola hysteria. While the former is not airborne, the latter is very much so. Specifically, through the airwaves, transmitted by blowhards and breathless coverage stoking unnecessary fear in the U.S. and other countries far from the affected region in West Africa.
“I watched the head of the CDC talking about Ebola, [saying] we can control it,” Donald Trump said on Fox News. “They couldn’t control their own labs a month ago.”
Still, doctors and health officials agree that Ebola is very difficult to contract, especially in the U.S., where there are strong sanitary and health protocols that help prevent outbreaks. The disease, which can cause death by organ failure, is only transmitted by direct contact with the blood or bodily fluids of an infected person.
“It is clear that we only have one chance to stop this spreading panic,” Stephen Colbert said in a Trump sendup. “We must isolate the source of the outbreak – our imagination.”
Ebola’s spread is certainly a cause for global concern. The World Health Organization is calling it a public health emergency. Health workers who regularly face exposure to the disease are strapped for resources.
But the outbreak remains limited to West Africa, where the CDC lists more than 1,100 suspected deaths and 2,100 suspected or confirmed cases in Liberia, Sierra Leone, Guinea and Nigeria.
No cases have been reported in the U.S., though controversy followed two American missionaries who contracted the virus and were evacuated for special isolated care in Atlanta.
The West African countries at risk have substandard conditions for treating Ebola victims, protecting health workers helping them, and tracking and confining new potential cases. Lax travel monitoring of those infected likely helped the virus spread.
The region on high alert, and international health organizations are stepping in. The death toll is higher than any previous outbreak, and this particular Ebola strain is the deadliest one known. The disease is truly horrifying, killing many of those infected with violent hemorrhages and internal and external bleeding.
But this also makes it harder to pass Ebola to others. The symptoms are so strong, and so often lethal, that the shorter incubation period–the time before the infected feel the symptoms–cuts down the time the disease can be spread.
Ebola is scary, clearly, but not nearly as scary as Trump and others would have us believe. Perhaps more than anything, Ebola hysteria is in need of a quarantine.