The Ebola Panic


Jenny McCarthyEbola has gripped the imagination of North American media and been spun into a terrifying spectre looming like a horseman of the apocalypse over us. So widespread has it become that Jenny McCarthy, one of the top wingnuts of quackery and pseudomedicine, and poster girl for the pro-measles-pro-mumps parents, felt compelled to pipe up with her own “cure,” should it spread to the USA:

Lemon juice.

Yep. Wonder how the scientists missed that one. A quick trip to the grocery store and you’re immune. Safe easy and natural!

Well, okay, she didn’t really say that. It was from a story posted on The Daily Currant, a satirical website and shared on social media as if it was a real story. Not even McCarthy is that moronic. I hope (it’s hard to tell…).

The same site also had stories titled, Sarah Palin: ‘Can Obama Stop The Ebola Zombies?’ and “Justin Bieber Hospitalized With Ebola” and Ann Coulter: ‘Give Ebola to Migrant Children’.

That doesn’t mean the wingnut crowd McCarthy belongs to hasn’t been busy spinning its nonsense. There has been the usual pile of steaming codswallop coming from the conspiracists about ebola as with chemtrails, morgellons and the New World Order. It’s been called a hoax on the loony tune sites. And on one a government population control device:

A buzzword around the internet lately, describes that the US government has either bought or created patents of a virus “called” ebola (not necessarily the same as the original from 1976), and is being used for either population control or as a bio-weapon for use on foreign powers that the government is at war with.

I know, I know: who comes up with this irresponsible, paranoid madness? (Apparently the scare/hoax/conspiracies are fueled by a profit motive… at least in part.)

The point is that ebola – a few years ago barely known outside the virus hunters of the CDC – is now a household word and a hot topic on social media. It scares people (and clearly befuddles the wingnuts). So much so that Ann Coulter, harridan for the Tea Party actually did chime in on it (although she lacks any knowledge about medicine or science to justify her comments), albeit to use it as a platform to launch another anti-Obama-pro-white-racist attack:

Conservative pundit Ann Coulter on Wednesday joined the bandwagon of right-wing critics questioning why President Barack Obama hasn’t instituted a travel ban for the African countries battling the Ebola epidemic — perhaps with the goal of preventing those who are infected from getting “free medical treatment” here in the U.S

Calling Coulter a pundit is obviously sarcasm; Salon more fittingly calls her a “professional troll.”

No mistake: ebola is a scary disease. It’s a hemorrhagic illness that kills you by bleeding you to death, slowly and painfully. There is no cure, yet. And this is the worst outbreak of the disease ever.

Your chances of catching it, however, are about the same as winning the lottery. Maybe less. It is spread by direct contact with bodily fluids from an infected person, not by air:

The spread of Ebola between people occurs only by direct contact with the blood or body fluids of a person after symptoms have developed. This includes embalming of an infected dead body or by contact with objects contaminated by the virus, particularly needles and syringes. Body fluids that may transmit ebola viruses include saliva, mucus, vomit, feces, sweat, tears, breast milk, urine, and semen. Entry points include the nose, mouth, eyes, or open wounds, cuts and abrasions

Much of the spread in Africa is caused by the lack of hygiene, poor medical facilities, lack of modern medical care and medical professionals, and traditional burial methods that include handling the deceased’s body, None of which apply to North American health care or cultural practices. As a column in Newsweek recently stated:

But how likely is it that a traveler would contract Ebola on a plane or cruise ship? Not very likely, says infectious disease expert William Schaffner. Speaking to BBC, Schaffner said the possibility of contracting Ebola on an airplane is “essentially zero.” Ebola isn’t a respiratory disease—which would be a serious problem on flights, given the circulated air—and can be transmitted only through direct contact.

There’s no need to buy a hazmat suit or wear a mask on the street. Read the news carefully, use your best judgment and try to get some sleep on your next flight. Unless you’re a vampire, your chances of contracting Ebola are slim.

But as a global threat? Ebola isn’t the biggest threat we face daily by a long shot. Between 1976 (when it was first discovered; five subtypes have since been recognized) and 2013, there were 1,716 confirmed cases. This year (as of Oct. 15), there have been 8,997 suspected cases have been identified, with 4,496 deaths. In comparison, in the USA, more than 11,000 people were killed by guns in 2013 and more than 9,500 in 2010.

And the other killers in the USA? Alcohol, cars, guns, tobacco, obesity… mostly self-inflicted. There are more than 32,000 motor-vehicle deaths every year in the USA.

American killers

Should we be to be worried? Yes, but it’s hardly time to panic. Even in Africa it’s far from the number one killer. In 2011, AIDs alone caused 1.2 million deaths in Sub-Saharan Africa (and another 250,000 in SE Asia).

Flu is a far greater threat to us here (flu-associated deaths int he USA have been estimated more than 23,000 a year), but a large population won’t get a flu vaccination despite that threat. New Age parents afraid of science and medicine are helping spread childhood mumps and measles that could kill their own children, because they have a medieval suspicion of vaccinations. Would any of them get an ebola vaccination should one be created? Unlikely.

Flu and ebola

The Wall Street Journal, Washington Post and Time Magazine all came out with columns this week that argued for people to stop worrying about ebola and get a flu shot:

By now it should be clear that the Ebola panic panic is in substantial part a political panic. Liberals and Democrats are anxious about their election prospects 2½ weeks hence and are pre-emptively blaming their losses on “a cynical turnout strategy” (quoting the Walsh piece’s headline) of appealing to irrational voters’ fears.

Don’t panic.

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Ian Chadwick
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