Public Ignorance and Ebola


In mid-October, a man – soon to be known as “Clipboard Guy” – was seen alongside four other health officers in hazmat suits, wheeling an Ebola patient for transfer from Dallas to Atlanta. He was wearing no protective gear, carrying a clipboard, and helping the HAZMAT-suited individuals with the patient. It caused an uproar on sites like Twitter, with people wondering why safety protocols seemed to be breached, why the virus was being taken lightly, and whether or not the man was infected and now a risk to society. As can be seen in this incident, mass hysteria is easily spurred by the media. As such, a lot of speculation about the Ebola virus has been based in ignorance and the human tendency to sensationalize.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, was asked to explain the audacity of the man in a CNN interview. He stated that there was “certainly no risk” for the underdressed employee: “you’re talking about direct contact with body fluid. So the risk of that person walking next to them is essentially zero.” In the craze of over-dramatization of the risks of the Ebola virus, media outlets have neglected to take an impartial stance on Ebola or emphasize the well-established fact that the virus is passed only through contact with bodily fluids.

In another interview with Fox News, Fauci was asked to answer “quick questions… that the folks were asking”. The interviewer prefaced the interview with the concession that Fauci may find some of these questions insensible. First asked if all travel should cease out of West African countries, Fauci replied with a simple no, due to the reason that blocking off a country instills fear and unrest and could lead to more dire consequences. The interviewer continued to press Fauci on the subject, asserting with leading questions that the screening of current passengers on airplanes was inadequate in dealing with the dangers of Ebola, citing a statistic that since the outbreak in Liberia, only two out of the ten thousand passengers flying out of the country had been screened. Fauci once again disagreed, stating that these screenings are based on science. The reason only two passengers were screened is that only two passengers showed fevers and that no one could pass Ebola unless they were symptomatic. The interview then moved forward with questions about illegal immigrants passing Ebola, Ebola as a bioweapon, and the possibility of Ebola mutating to be transmitted through the air. For all of these questions, Fauci answered with apparent impatience, derailing the sensational hypotheticals with science and common sense.

Fauci ended the interview with a statement of practicality. He conceded that the fear of the public should be respected, but also stated that this fear is unwarranted due to the infrastructure of the American health care system. In his professional opinion, an Ebola outbreak will not occur in the U.S. due to isolation techniques and scientific advancements.

It is people like Dr. Anthony Fauci who are necessary to quell the fears of the public with common sense, rather than subscribing to them as the media has done. A growing trend of overindulgence in the exaggeration of Ebola’s potential for harm can be observed in the attitudes of many media outlets. Although the virus is serious, American media should not add to the problem with their portrayal of irrational fear. The concept of an Ebola bioweapon transmitted through the air by illegal immigrants is a concept of a movie, and should remain so.

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