An estimated 8,000 total cases of infection and a resulting 4,450 deaths make 2014’s Ebola outbreak the most deadly ever.
The outbreak’s magnitude leaves many with concerns, and various news outlets have capitalized on the inherent fear associated, overstating the risk of treating American Ebola patients in Dallas, Texas and Atlanta, Ga.
One news organization used a helicopter to follow the ambulance of American doctor Kent Brantly, who had contracted the disease. Leslie Savan, staff writer for the U.S. magazine, the Nation, drew parallels from such coverage to O.J. Simpson’s infamous white bronco car chase.
Politicians are also using the Ebola outbreak in West Africa to further personal agendas. Georgia congressman Phil Gingrey used the Ebola outbreak in West Africa to talk about the recent “influx of unaccompanied children and their subsequent transfer to other parts of the country.”
Gingrey called for “immediate action” in response to the “reports of illegal immigrants carrying deadly diseases such as swine flu, dengue fever, Ebola virus and tuberculosis.”
With similar news floating around social media, one could find many reasons to worry.
The Center for Disease Control, though, has a message: Do not panic.
Dr. Tom Frieden, director of the CDC said, “Ebola can be scary. But there’s all the difference in the world between the U.S. and parts of Africa where Ebola is spreading.”
“While it is not impossible that there could be additional cases associated with this patient in the coming weeks, I have no doubt that we will contain this,” Frieden said.
Sensationalizing the presence of Ebola patients in the U.S. and using the inherent fear of outbreak for political gain moves public attention away from reality in West Africa.
Dr. Brantly described what he saw in a five-page address to the United States Senate, “I witnessed the horror … the intense pain and humiliation of those who suffer with it, the irrational fear and superstition that pervades communities and the violence and unrest that now threatens entire nations.”
Dr. Brantly contracted the disease eight months after moving to Liberia as a medical missionary, and three months after the initial reports of Ebola in the region, “I became a patient.”
“Even though I knew most of my caretakers, I could see nothing but their eyes through their protective goggles when they came to treat me. I experienced the humiliation of losing control of my bodily functions and faced the horror of vomiting blood.”
Dr. Brantly described the grueling work. Workers wear plastic, personal protective suits in temperatures often reaching 115 degrees
Treatment of one individual requires 30 minutes from a team of three to five people due to the safety protocols necessary for so infectious a disease, and the outbreak has overwhelmed treatment centers.
Workers rely on commercial airlines to deliver supplies, and few commercial jets fly to the area.
Dr. Brantly called for assistance from the U.S. Airforce, “Our military is the only global force with the capacity to immediately and effectively mobilize this kind of logistical support.
We cannot turn the tide of this disease without regular flights of personnel and large cargo loads of equipment and supplies.”
According to the CDC, health workers can isolate patients and contain Ebola.
In the U.S. where health centers everywhere have prepared to receive Ebola patients like the one who contracted the disease in Africa and was diagnosed in Dallas, containment is not an issue.
In West Africa, patients often go into hiding.
Dr. Brantly and his fellow aid workers know the issue well, “We know that the virus is being spread primarily by those who are unwilling or unable to go to an Ebola Treatment Unit. Many Ebola-positive people are staying at home and even hiding when they become ill.”
“Because of fear and superstition, their family members either abandon them or lovingly tend to them in ways that almost always result in the infection of the caregivers.”
If Ebola is to be stopped in West Africa, patients need more workers, and workers need more supplies and facilities.
According to Dr. Brantly the U.S. needs to focus its attention on West Africa and providing aid. Should the U.S. not give proper attention to Ebola where the problem lies, Dr. Brantly said, “We cannot fool ourselves into thinking that the vast moat of the Atlantic Ocean will keep the flames away from our shores.”