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
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
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
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.
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.
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