Fear: The One True Contagion

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I hope the reader will forgive me as I comment on the contagions that now litter every news and media outlet. I speak, of course, on Ebola and, more importantly, the fear with which it so poignantly strikes in the hearts and minds of the masses.

By now, the reader has undoubtedly been subjected to a veritable deluge of articles and stories detailing the horrors of Ebola. Ebola isn’t a new virus. Since the discovery of the virus in the latter portion of the 1970’s, a total of five viruses (known under the umbrella term as ebolaviruses) have been discovered, four of which result in the disease in humans.

As you may have noticed, the attention began with the outbreaks of Ebola in West Africa. For those who know the whole story, I shall be brief. In December 2013, Guinea experienced an outbreak of Ebola which eventually spread to its neighbors, Liberia and Sierra Leone. Since that time, the disease has been difficult to contain due to traditional medicine, death and burial rituals, and understaffed and ill-equipped hospitals and treatment centers, to name a few.

In an update provided by the World Health Organization (WHO), “8997 confirmed, probable, and suspected cases of Ebola… have been reported in seven affect countries… up to the end of 12 October [2014]. There have been 4493 deaths.” Any loss of life greater than zero is terrible, especially if modern medicine could have helped in terms of prevention and treatment. However, this loss of life is little when compared to the bombs, rockets, bullets, and shells used to pitilessly slaughter and dispossess countless lives on a daily basis. Worse yet, the WHO reported that 6.3 million children under the age of 5 died in 2013.

The numbers above should be shocking. However, those are but a few of the statistics that demonstrate the loss of life endured every day.

Fear is the other killer, which doesn’t strike the body… We all know where fear strikes. And that is where we find our focus today. The focus is no longer in West Africa but in the United States where one can look forward to more news on Ebola. Daily updates are provided on the happenings in Texas where one man has died and two more people are known to be infected with Ebola. Now, I understand that one of these individuals has traveled via a commercial airline and has potentially exposed a large group of people. This was definitely risky behavior, especially from an individual with medical training. The stupid behavior notwithstanding, I am confident that we have little to fear from Ebola at this time.

The statements made by certain health officials has helped ensure that the public remains fearful of Ebola. Can one truly believe that the director of the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) publicly stated: “In the 30 years I’ve been working in public health, the only thing like this has been AIDS.” Wow! Read that sentence again if necessary. One could imagine how that statement caused quite a shitstorm, to say the least. Remember, my dear readers, the CDC has maintained that spread of this disease is limited to contact with bodily fluids of the afflicted. Transmission does not occur via food, water, or air. Unless, of course, it mutates. *ominous music* On Twitter, one will find #FearBola circulating. That is quite revealing, no?

I see people constantly sanitizing their hands, their clothing, and all things that lie in their domain. I wouldn’t be surprised if we soon heard news of germophobes attacking citizens with buckets of Purell in order to “cleanse” our society of disease. Truth be told, that might not be so terrible for select individuals—not that I advocate hurling buckets of Purell at people, but perhaps we could recommend better hygienic practices for some. But where would it stop? Throwing sanitizing liquids on someone sound ludicrous until it becomes a reality. And it might not stop there. As with the screenings for Ebola in airports, would we start screening people as they enter other public places. Imagine being banned from a theatre because of a sniffle. Imagine one was banned from attending certain meetings or engaging in certain activities just because one was ill. Such actions would harken back to the stigmatization that occurred during the AIDS epidemic. I’ll allow the reader’s mind to carry them off with this terrible (and slightly conspiratorial) idea.

This pathological fear of germs is pervasive and should be resisted. Living a sterile life undermines that which makes life wonderful. Play in the dirt, wash your hands less frequently, avoid use of hand sanitizers, bask in the glory your own body odor, travel the world, help the destitute, and hug the ill. I’m not a health professional, but I’m fairly confident that death won’t result from the aforementioned actions.

So, I agree that Ebola is bad and that the loss of life resulting from the disease is anything but desirable. However, I urge the reader to put things into perspective. With all the attention this disease has been receiving, it is doubtful that this epidemic will last much longer. Is this disease akin to AIDS as the CDC director brazenly states it is? Should we live completely sterile lives, actively avoiding risky behavior? Do we allow ourselves to live in fear at the behest of propagandist news?

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7 comments on “Fear: The One True Contagion”

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