Ebola Update: The hysteria grows

Two possible cases of Ebola are in quarantine in Benin. Benin is a neighbor of Nigeria and there is a lot of commercial traffic between the two countries. It is not yet known if these cases are Ebola or something else, like Malaria.

The CDC and WHO have both labeled the outbreak a major public health emergency. The WHO wants to have all affected countries to declare a state of emergency. Some have, and already are using government troops to maintain quarantine and suppress demonstrations.

Thomas Frieden, of the CDC, says that while there is a possibility that a traveler who unknowingly had Ebola could arrive in the US, this would likely not lead to a large scale outbreak. The conditions and situations between West Africa and first-world healthcare are amazingly different and much better in more developed countries.

The Ebola virus, courtesy of Shutterstock

The Ebola virus, courtesy of Shutterstock

One major problem in both Africa and the US is the growing hysteria about Ebola. Some Africans believe that missionaries introduced it into Africa. That they are actively seeking body parts for transplant. That they need to hide family members with Ebola or else dump them at clinics and then flee. Some doctors are saying that Ebola is a hoax.

In the US, I’ve seen posts where the authors have confused Ebola with AIDS, made wild statements: Ebola is mutating to an airborne form. I IS already airborne. Ebola mutates faster that the flu. US government wants to decrease population. Almost none of this is supported by any evidence. Just fear, hostility, conservative talking points getting repeated, endlessly, without thinking. The government, CDC, NIH are all out to get us. They have drugs that will keep them safe while we’ll die. Then other posts obviously just made up from fear and trying to spread fear. It’s 90% fatal, it will kill all of us. It’s God’s punishment for “homosexism” in Liberia.

We need to combat this with facts from research, public information programs, sound information presented on news programs, etc. Public Health Departments need to get active and educate people about what Ebola is and what it isn’t. Now is the best time to do that while public interest is high and people are asking questions.

The CDC has some good educational material and several good links available here.

Mark Thoma, MD, is a physician who did his residency in internal medicine. Mark has a long history of social activism, and was an early technogeek, and science junkie, after evolving through his nerd phase. Favorite quote: “The most exciting phrase to hear in science... is not 'Eureka!' (I found it!) but 'That's funny.'” - Isaac Asimov

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