October 21, 2014

We Now Interrupt Your Regularly Scheduled Program for a Breaking News Outbreak: Please stop freaking out over Ebola.

Photo Credit: No idea, but I would love to know

Y'all, I am interrupting our regularly scheduled column for today because it's 4:00 in the morning as I type this and people are being ridiculous.

Here in our Midlands area,  a student is being kept out of school because his/her/their parents recently returned from Senegal, a country in west Africa that borders Guinea. You may recognize Guinea as one of the nations most affected by the current Ebola outbreak.

Guinea is actually currently believed to be the source of the virus--a small child began showing symptoms there on December 6, 2013, and is identified as Child Zero.

So far, though, Senegal has handled the disease swimmingly. Consider these facts:


  • Ebola was confirmed in an introduced case on August 29.
  • The man had traveled to Dakar (Senegal's capital) by road from Guinea
  • The case was quickly identified, along with 74 possible contacts
  • All possible contacts were monitored for 42 days (twice the incubation period)
  • No new cases developed within that 42 day period
  • WHO declared Senegal free of the disease, although they are still vigilant because of their close proximity to the epicenter

WHO made their pronouncement just last week, on October 17, applauding the nation for its careful handling of the situation. The examples of Senegal and Nigeria have been applauded as what can happen when Ebola makes it into nations with relatively stable healthcare infrastructures--both  nations have excellent systems far outpacing those of their devastated neighbors. It's also an excellent example of what vigilance can do.

In fact, Senegal, if you think about it, currently has a better record of handling the virus than we do, here in the US. There was no additional infection following the introduced case. No healthcare workers. No family members. No one else became sick at all.

And yet, not only have we decided to keep this kid out of school (not that they are probably complaining!) and possibly stigmatize them and their family, but we have people saying absolutely ridiculous things, like:

"But the incubation period is 21 days, so why is the kid only home for 14 days?" ((Well, because Senegal has been virus for 42 days, probably much longer than the students parents were even there...))

"Why didn't the school contact families?" ((Because it would cause pointless panic when the risk was so miniscule.))

And my personal favorite: "Why aren't they identifying the family publicly?" ((I dunno, maybe because privacy and also the general stupidity level of the population they are dealing with. Just a guess.))

Meanwhile, we've had one Ebola-related death in the U.S. compared to the 53, 826 flu and pneumonia related deaths we had in the last year that death statistics are available for (2011).

You read that right. For every one death due to Ebola in the US, there are approximately, roughly, 50,000 flu deaths.

In South Carolina, we had one death and 114 hospitalizations for flu that year.

What am I saying? The risk is so significantly higher that maybe these parents should be calling for everyone to stay home during flu season instead. We know it's in the state, and we've already had our first confirmed death for the flu this year. 

But no. Let's freak out. That does a whole lot of good, folks.

Before I head out to go pull out the remainder of my hair this morning (I haven't even started on my Google alerts yet!), let's look at some other things that are far more likely to kill Americans than Ebola:


Heart disease: 596,577
Cancer: 576,691
Chronic lower respiratory diseases: 142,943
Stroke (cerebrovascular diseases): 128,932
Accidents (unintentional injuries): 126,438
Alzheimer's disease: 84,974
Diabetes: 73,831
Influenza and Pneumonia: 53,826
Nephritis, nephrotic syndrome, and nephrosis: 45,591
Intentional self-harm (suicide): 39,518

 I know--I really do--that it's tempting to panic. Fear is a natural response for living beings. It's a gift via natural selection that helps keep us ticking.

But we are human. Our reason and rationality are the two components that carve out our "niche" in our environment (can you tell I've been reading Darwin? ;) ). Without those components, we are just big, dumb, scared animals.

And right now, I'm thinking a lot of us are seeing nothing more than a monkey in the mirror.

Look at the facts. Consider the context. Listen to what the CDC and other sources are saying (and I don't mean your latest conspiracy theorists!). Truly think about it all, and ask yourself, "Am I truly at risk?" I'm fairly certain you'll come to the understanding that no, you are not personally at risk.

It's a little sad that it takes this deadly disease coming to our shores for us to take notice of it, and all of the ME ME ME ME ME WHAT ABOUT ME is a little much when you consider how devastating this truly is in western Africa. For our one death, they've had over 4,000...which is still, when you look at the combined populations of the areas involved, about 0.0025% of their population, much like the flu only kills 0.017% of ours.

So I think I'll wrap it up here, and leave you all with one of my favorite memes on the subject:

photo credit: Again, no idea, but I'd love to know

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