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: What’s Behind the Ebola Mania? Could it be We Like the Panic?

What’s Behind the Ebola Mania? Could it be We Like the Panic?

Managing Editor

Unless you've been living under a rock (and probably even if you havebeen living under a rock), you've heard we've got ourselves an Ebola issue on our hands in the United States. Please note that my choice of words is intentional. It's an "issue" not a "crisis," and it's certainly not an "outbreak" or "epidemic" (with only three cases of Ebola contracted on U.S. soil and only two cases contracted here, we are far, far away from having an outbreak of Ebola in this country).

And how have you heard about Ebola in the United States? Maybe it was from headlines like this: " Ebola fears throw Ohio bridal shop owners' lives into chaos and" How Bad Will Ebola Get? Even the Experts Don't Know." We've seen people make their own Hazmat suits to wear at the airport. There are websites (including major news websites) with Ebola outbreak "counters." All of this can be summarized in three words: irresponsible health communication (not to mention bad journalism). The way the Ebola story has been reported in news outlets is sadly not all that surprising. Those of us who call ourselves journalists know all too well the adage "if it bleeds, it leads."

But, after a few weeks of sensational headlines that only furthered panic among many American citizens, something interesting started to happen. Voices of reason began to rise above panicked voices to produce headlines like this: " Where's the screaming Ebola headlines about the 43 healthy people in Dallas?," " The Media Covering Ebola: Fear Tactics That Play on Racial, Economic Divides," and my personal favorite, " Syracuse University bravely saves students from exposure to journalism."

This new batch of headlines stems from the idea that maybe, just maybe, there's been a tad bit of overreaction to the fact that two people in the United States contracted Ebola. Make no mistake about it: Ebola is a horrific disease that has claimed far too many lives in West Africa. It's deadly and heartbreaking for those who have lost loved ones. But for the rest of us, especially those of us extremely unlikely to even know, let alone come in contact with, someone with the Ebola virus, a little perspective is a good thing. Remember, 80 percent of U.S. patients with Ebola have survived, and that number is expected to increase as more patients recover.

So, there's no need to panic, right? Well, right, but it turns out that we kind of like to panic. In an attempt to explain the widespread panic we are currently experiencing about Ebola, Time notes in an fascinating article about the human psyche that "The almost-zero probability of acquiring Ebola in the U.S. often doesn't register at a time of mass fear. It's human nature." The article goes on to point out that we've experienced similar panic over AIDS and polio. Although the chances of contracting the disease are incredibly low, the dire nature of the disease and what might happen if we contract it is enough to send us into a tailspin of ridiculousness.

Bottom line: keep in mind that there are nasty viruses besides Ebola that you can contract, so wash your hands, cover your mouth when you cough or sneeze (preferably NOT with your hand; into your elbows people!), and for goodness sake, stop watching cable television!

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The Healthy(ist) blog is a platform to share, learn about, and debate topics related to public and social health, scientific research, health communications, and behavior change.
We invite and encourage anyone interested in current public health and health communication trends and issues to join MMG's contributing bloggers in adding their voice to the ongoing discussion about how we can advance health, together.

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