The Line between Valid Concern and Hysteria Regarding Ebola
The Ebola virus is spreading quickly in West Africa, and people are dying. The outbreak is definitely an emergency and warrants the serious response that it’s getting. However, for the most part, people in the United States and Canada (and Western Europe) aren’t at risk because of the modern infrastructure that provides things like running water, soap, and a well-established healthcare system.
“But still,” you may ask yourself, “isn’t it possible that it could happen here, too, if we’re not careful?” And “what about if it mutates?” Honestly, a virus has never mutated in a way that resulted in a change in the mode of transmission, so it’s very unlikely that Americans and Canadians (and Western Europeans) are in danger. So why is everyone so panicked?
Common symptoms of Ebola
The early symptoms of Ebola during the 2014 outbreak (and all other past Ebola outbreaks) are so commonplace that a person easily can get excited over what’s ultimately just a cold or the flu. The common symptoms include coughing, sneezing, and feeling achy. Many people have these symptoms, so it just adds to the public concern.
The novelty of Ebola
A major reason for the massive amounts of news coverage and individual worry in the United States and other western countries is that the general public doesn’t know much about Ebola. People tend to fear what they don’t understand.
Although the flu is much more rampant than Ebola and kills thousands every year (due in part to the fact that only about 40 percent of Americans, 33 percent or less of Canadians, and as little as 2 percent of people in different EU countries actually get a flu shot every year), the flu doesn’t receive the same coverage or response because people have gotten so desensitized to it.
Flu is more of a concern than Ebola, but it’s old news and not as emotionally charged for people. Flu just doesn’t feel like an emergency or crisis to most people because they’ve lived with it for so long. Society in general seems to have the attitude of, “sure, flu kills old people and babies sometimes, but it could never kill me.” Nothing to see here and nothing to fear.
Media and Ebola hysteria
The media is one of, if not the, biggest drivers behind the current frenzy. Although news coverage is important and informative, most of the news industry is a business in the end. As such, the great majority of news outlets operate with profits in mind, which means that they broadcast whatever will yield the highest ratings or largest reader/listenership.
It also means that the media has a tendency to sensationalize or overhype stories in order to draw the audience in with drama.
When you read about something in the papers one day, then hear about it on the radio on the way to work, and then see the same thing on the news, it really grabs your attention, leading you (typically) to make the assessment that it must be important.
But when that 24-7 news cycle continues reporting on the same issue for days, weeks, or months on end, you can shift from simply being concerned and interested to being paranoid and irrational.
Stories about Ebola are everywhere you turn, giving the impression that the United States is facing a major crisis — which is only partly true. The real crisis is in West Africa, and it definitely warrants the coverage. However, the coverage about the United States has been a bit overblown and contributes to public hysteria.
You can help yourself avoid getting swept up in it by being a conscious news consumer and even doing your own research.
Travel concerns and Ebola
Airlines and other travel-based industries have enacted various protocols to prevent the current Ebola outbreak from spreading. As a result, when people travel, they have encountered these new policies. You see signage and witness procedures, which brings the Ebola outbreak even closer to home.
You may even see someone get denied boarding or tended to in the middle of a flight. Not to mention, just being in a large public place like an airport exposes you to a lot of different people in various states of health and from various parts of the world.
Although the only part of the world that you need to be concerned about in regards to the current Ebola outbreak is West Africa, the heightened global concern tends to cause people to generalize and be suspicious of anyone coughing, sneezing, or feeling feverish while traveling.