September 12, 2014

When Ebola broke into headline news several weeks ago, I was eerily reminded of the early public response to the AIDS epidemic – a lot of fear, confusion, mistrust, anxiety and very little true knowledge.   So many people began posting on social media sites offering comments and “advice” about how to deal with Ebola:

“Stop the EBOLA patients from entering the US… Treat them, at the highest level, over there. THE UNITED STATES HAS ENOUGH PROBLEMS” ~

“The U.S. cannot allow EBOLA infected people back. People that go to far away places to help out are great-but must suffer the consequences!”

Donald Trump, via Twitter

For me, this again highlights the gap between science and perception. And of course, reinforces the importance of candor.

Just as my head was spinning with all of the public panic surrounding Ebola, I came across a fantastic series of articles in The Washington Post attempting to clarify the details.  I am so grateful for the Post’s effort and that of Danielle Paquette (Post reporter) and Lenny Bernstein (Post blogger).  After interviewing medical and scientific professionals who understand and deal with Ebola and other infectious diseases as their full-time job, Paquette and Bernstein are breaking it down to reality – taking the lofty, confusing science and statistics and making it readable, understandable by the rest of us.

Bernstein does a fabulous job explaining that:

    • Ebola, in its current form, is not air-borne, not highly contagious, and is only contagious when someone is symptomatic (things like MERS and Bird Flu are far more contagious)
    • The US medical infrastructure is greatly superior to those in Western Africa; we are well-equipped to diagnose, manage and prevent an outbreak
    • And, our customs are very different (for example, here friends and family don’t bury our own dead as happens in the stricken areas of Africa.)

Bernstein and Paquette seem to be countering people like Trump who are raising fears that are largely unfounded and fostering a disease-like spread of misinformation and panic. Ebola is an important topic. I hope others who are concerned about Ebola, and are ready to share a public opinion, are supportive of those assisting our fellow humans in Africa and frame their opinions about the disease based in the facts.