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I called it. I told you all that fear was spreading faster than Ebola, and now it has. A physician in New York City has come down with it after working with Ebola patients in Africa. With fear comes all sorts of stupidity. According to Reuters, this is what people are going through:
“When Zuru Pewu picked up her 4-year-old son, Micah, from kindergarten at a Staten Island, New York, public school recently, a woman pointed at her in front of about 30 parents and their children, and started shouting.
“She kept screaming, ‘These African bitches brought Ebola into our country and are making everybody sick!'” said Pewu, 29, who emigrated from Liberia in 2005. “Then she told her son, ‘You know the country that’s called Liberia that they show on the TV? That’s where these bitches are from.'””
Because all people from Liberia have Ebola, don’t you know?
I think you know. You’re a smart, thoughtful person. That’s why you read this blog. Unfortunately for all of us, way too many people are reacting stupidly to the Ebola situation, and way too many of them are in positions of power and authority.
Just last week, Senator John McCain called for an “Ebola Czar” while being completely oblivious (or just plain ignoring) the fact that we have been without a Surgeon General for a while now. Then there is Senator Rand Paul telling people that Ebola is so infectious that you can catch it at a cocktail party. And, not to be outdone, Representative Peter King tells us that the virus has mutated and that doctors are wrong.
And that’s just the politicians. Plenty of people on the street seem to be convinced that Ebola is more than we know it is. They read things online and believe them to be true. They read things like “Ebola has been manufactured” or “the CDC has a patent on Ebola” and think the worst. You just can’t preach rationality to those people. Worse yet, a lot of what they think about Ebola comes from a movie… A goddamned movie!
Sorry. I lost my cool.
No. You know what? I have a right to lose my cool. We all should lose our cool with idiots who promote ridiculous things about Ebola — and other diseases — like the religious zealots in Liberia who are blaming Ebola on homosexuality and getting people hurt. We should not stand for all this bullshit and fight it with facts, with reason, with science, evidence and all those things.
When some jerk like Donald Trump loses his mind and blames the President of the United States, we need to fire back and remind him of a simple fact:
When Governor Rick Perry of Texas shouts that we need to shut flights from West Africa — which would essentially kill their economy and infrastructure — we need to remind him that more people have died from West Nile Virus in Texas than from Ebola in Texas. So what is he going to do about West Nile Virus? Surely not panic.
Look, there are a ton of different things more likely to kill you in the United States than Ebola. We are blessed/lucky/fortunate to have a robust healthcare system. If you get sick in just about any county in the country, you can call on an ambulance to take you to a hospital. By law, that hospital must treat you until you’re stable. If you happen to get Ebola, you are much more likely to survive here than you would in West Africa.
Which leads me to my next point. You would think that the outbreak in West Africa is over from the news coverage that it has not been getting and by the slowness in reacting from all the governments and people in the world. Why is it that humanitarian organizations have to go begging for donations to fight Ebola in Africa while anti-vaccine organizations waste money buying themselves congressmen? And how the heck is Cuba — with all the things we’re told about it — doing a better job responding than America?
When people ask me about their risk of this disease or that, I take into consideration the population-level things that determine that risk. People like my wife who are healthcare providers need to determine both population-level factors as well as individual factors in telling someone their risk. When it comes to Ebola, the whole of the population is at lesser risk of contracting it than getting hit by lightning or dying in a crashing plane. The risk is only slightly higher for healthcare workers taking care of a person with Ebola here in the US, or for a person living with an Ebola patient.
All this paranoia and idiocy in reacting to Ebola is not going to help the people who really need to be helped: the people in West Africa. They don’t have the luxury of calling for an ambulance or going to a good hospital. Heck, they barely have doctors. No, not “enough doctors.” They barely have doctors, period. They don’t get to go to an urgent care center or an emergency department and whine over not getting their percocet or other painkillers.
So let’s fight for those people and stop the spread of misinformation. Spread the right information. Listen to the science.
For God’s sakes, get a grip!
René F. Najera, DrPH
I'm a Doctor of Public Health, having studied at the Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health.
All opinions are my own and in no way represent anyone else or any of the organizations for which I work.
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