Why the Panic over Ebola is More Dangerous than the Virus

>> Sunday, October 19, 2014

The crazy stupid politicians are screaming crisis and blaming as fast as they can, casting suspicion every immigrant, every traveler, citizen who has ever had a connection to Africa in any way as a deliberate carrier of Ebola (with their own lives willingly forfeit as well). Their own government agencies, intended to address concerns like Ebola are incompetent (even if they were among the many who voted to cut funding for both CDC and NIH) or lying and instilling a false sense of security. Naturally, it's all the President's fault, or ISIS (who the President enabled), or the Latin American refugee children (who, ironically would have dropped by the side of the road long before reaching the goal if infected), or all part of Obama's elaborate plan to attack white America via an African disease. Some of the people lambasting our epidemiologists have already shown their science chops (or rather their distinct lack of any) on the climate question, but, true to form, have not let their profound ignorance stop them from telling the experts what's what. Some should definitely know better than to cry dishonesty to our most knowledgeable experts and those worldwide who have been battling the different waves of Ebola for several decades and tens of thousands of cases.

The media outlets are right on board, trumpeting Ebolagedden and implying government corruption, incompetence, coverups, and conspiracy, often in the same sentence (despite the fact that some of these are contradictory).They're quick to parse simple language memos into dire ominous warnings, oftimes implying the bulletins say the exact opposite of what they actually say (due to creative interpretation and word parsing - see my previous post) while, at the same time, accusing these same organizations of covering up the real truth they say they just got from the bulletins. If you think a second or so of rational thought would highlight the flaws in such logic, you'd be right; unfortunately, their audience isn't getting past "Ebola, run for your lives!" and "I knew they were hiding it!"

(One individual complained to me that, though "they admitted transmission via sneezing were possible they were downplaying the likelihood." I asked them, how do you downplay a likelihood that, after nearly four decades and thousands of cases, has never happened? Sheesh!)

This sort of thing isn't a new phenomenon, but the panic, far more than the disease, is  particularly dangerous and particularly at this time.


It's dangerous for hospitals and emergency patients who need those hospitals. By implying Ebola is an unpredictable boil about to erupt on America, people are going to be cautious about contact. Which is fine to a point.

But that means vomiting or stomachaches or fevers, even mild ones, (all fairly common symptoms) could readily convince the paranoid that they've contracted Ebola so that they clog up emergency rooms (who may not be able to take such claims lightly for fear of a repeat of the Duncan incident), distracting caregivers from legitimate emergencies where lives are on the line. Caregivers (who are the mostly likely to get exposed to Ebola) may elect to take special precautions, including full gear, for anyone bleeding while feverish or vomiting. While understandable, it's largely overkill unless there's a good reason to suspect Ebola. Making Ebola a boogeyman that can attack any time or anywhere drives these types of precautions which take up time, make work more awkward and distracts caregivers from vital life-saving work. There are lives at stake, some of which might be forfeit for this unbased fear.

Regular people will also be paranoid about contact. People might panic, afraid to touch their own children that start puking or get an unexpected fever. People might become wary of contact with anyone who's been outside the country, with strangers and, I'm sad to say because Africa is always linked to Ebola, especially black strangers. Many of us are old enough to remember the stigmatizing and needless isolation of AIDS patients, hemophiliacs, homosexuals - and that stigmatizing often carried far beyond those who actually had AIDS to any gay people. If that kind of trend started with black people, it could get very ugly, very quickly.

Folks, Ebola is about transmissable as AIDS, except the window between infection and the part where someone has to be in a hospital is very short, less than three weeks at the outside. It's not easy to catch even when one is ill: the people who were living with Duncan, even during those days after the first trip to the ER until the day he started vomiting, three days later, haven't contracted Ebola (they go off quarantine today). The reason why AIDS gets transmitted so well is because it can be dormant a long time where no one (even the person who has it) may know. The reason why Ebola is currently spread so much in Africa is that, though fluid transmission is the only way, the last stage of Ebola involves spewing fluids from pretty much every orifice. And isolation facilities are few and overcrowded, with many locations having limited hygiene and sanitation facilities.

That's not the case here in the US. Which is why the WHO experts (who have been fighting this, studying and documenting it since it first appeared in 1976) say it won't be an epidemic here and that flying on a plane while not yet really sick is dangerous. And why the CDC experts, who have been following the information from WHO, have said it won't be the same here.

But the media and the politicians refuse to listen both for the very same reason. For the media, of course, it's all about profit. Getting people scared or furious keeps them glued to the TV and that's great for ratings, truth be damned, damage be damned. I mentioned that media outlets hoping to cash in on the sensationalism by spreading unnecessary fear "suck green donkey balls." That still stands, but that's not even the worst.

For politicians, there are many who have a particular interest in the distractions and stirring up the populace right now and that's the mid-term elections, barely two weeks away. If enough of the politicians, notably those who specialize in criticizing Obama and liberal policies (including, ironically, public services like CDC) either up for election this year or who want to set the stage for themselves via this election's results, can sway the uncertain elements of the crowd to vote for them to preserve their lives from Ebola, well, they'll say anything to make it so.

If they do so, and many of the obstructionists and people intent on sacrificing the American people to the 1% succeed in taking power, there will be far more harm done than even in the ERs, far more pervasive, far more long-lasting, far deeper misery than Ebola could do on its worst day. IF we let fear rule us.  That's the apex of the damage we face, the real horror this scare, rather than the virus, could do us.

I hate anyone who makes a profit from other people's misery (as Ebola surely is), but when a politician uses it for his (or her) own gain or to promote his own agenda, I think it is criminally negligible, irresponsible and, if he's a public servant, a violation of his office and oath of duty. Personally, I'd like to see such scumbags in jail. But I'll settle for voting them out in November. The irony is that the supporters for these very politicians are the ones most likely to take to paranoia - wouldn't it be interesting if their fear kept them home during the election? That, would be something like "hoist in one's own petard."

The repercussions from hysteria are already starting: Fearbola


  • flit

    well said - but I think you forgot to mention that it allows people who are already racist to further their non-white people are scary, dangerous others agenda. Just as the rhetoric around AIDS targeted homosexuals (in spite of the inconvenient truth that it was not just a gay disease), the ebola rhetoric is targeting people of colour...which, given Obama's race, is just tooooooooooooooo convenient.

  • flit

    ah... just reread and see you did mention it... oops!

  • Stephanie Barr

    I think it's a valid point. And I'm glad you were cognizant. I haven't heard anyone talking this way...yet, but I fear it might be inevitable. I hope I'm wrong,

  • Stephanie Barr

    Actually, if the next quarantine goes by without any more infections, it might just die. And that would be excellent. Won't be in time for the election, however.

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