Ebola frenzy overtakes U.S. media

If you watch or listen to — well, just about any — news broadcast, you might think we have the new issue that will spell our certain doom — Ebola.

In the latest outbreak, there have been more than 3,400 cases — all but one diagnosed in Africa — of the deadly disease caused by the Ebola virus, but to tune in to many network and cable news shows, you would suspect it was running rampant in U.S. cities, too. (UPDATE: There is now also a case of a nurse in Spain who has been infected.)

The latest scariest-story-in-the-world is that a man inside the U.S. has been diagnosed with Ebola. He flew into Dallas from Liberia via Brussels and was later diagnosed with Ebola at a Dallas hospital. He had been visiting relatives in Liberia and picked up the virus unknowingly. He visited a hospital emergency department twice for fever and other symptoms. The first time, he told a nurse he had been in Liberia, but that information didn’t get transmitted to the doctor, and the patient was sent home with antibiotics. The second time, he was diagnosed with Ebola, and he now is in critical condition. (UPDATE: The patient has now died.)

And we’ve heard every single moment of it. Every detail. The fact that the man didn’t tell the airline that he had been in Liberia. The hospital screwed up, the nurse screwed up, the doctor screwed up. I guess we’re all going to die of Ebola. Except we’re not.

Hour after hour, headline after headline, news crawl after news crawl — they’re all filled with Ebola news. Overblown, hyper-intense Ebola news.

The Ebola virus, while deadly, passes from one person to another only when the second person comes in contact with an infected person’s bodily fluids. It is not transmissible by air, like other airborne diseases we should be more concerned about, which kill thousands of Americans every year. Like influenza (have you gotten your flu shot yet?).

And it can be contained. According to a report in The New York Times, Nigeria, which has far fewer resources and a much less sophisticated and effective public health system than we do here, seems to have contained its Ebola outbreak with aggressive quarantine and other containment actions. “For those who say it’s hopeless, this is an antidote — you can control Ebola,” said Dr. Thomas R. Frieden, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Miles O’Brien, a former reporter and anchor at CNN and now a PBS Newshour science correspondent, took his former network to task during an interview on CNN’s Reliable Sources. “I wish everybody could take a deep breath and take a break from trying to pull viewers in by scaring them,” he told host Brian Stelter. “And that’s what we’re seeing here. It borders on irresponsibility when people get on television and start talking that way when they should know better.”

O’Brien’s criticism was not limited to CNN. Stelter played a clip from Fox News where a host (with no evidence whatsoever) opined that some Africans “might seek treatment from a witch doctor.”

“Well, we could digress into what motivated that, and perhaps the racial component of all this, the arrogance, the first world verses third world statements and implications,” O’Brien said about the clip. “It’s offensive on several levels. And it reflects a level of ignorance, which we should not allow in our media and in our discourse.”

Certain hosts on MSNBC are doing no better. Chris Matthews, host of Hardball, seems to be in full meltdown mode. In a recent interview with bioethicist Dr. Ezekiel Emanuel, Matthews kept reiterating that President Obama “said it was unlikely. It has happened. It’s here.”

Dr. Emanuel would have none of that. “The idea that there’s going to be a widespread outbreak here, I think is just, again, it’s a bit of fear mongering,” he said. “We have a single case.”

Many Republican politicians are joining the fear mongering. There have been calls for stopping all international flights from any country that has Ebola victims. Of course, that wouldn’t have stopped the one U.S. Ebola patient we have, since he flew in from Belgium. We must close our Southern borders, they claim, since people with Ebola might slip past. Some on the right were making that same argument during the summer, claiming that the influx of unaccompanied minors from Central America could bring Ebola into the country. Even though no Central American country has any Ebola cases. So I guess this means we should build a wall around Texas, then, and not let anyone in or out.

Of course, it must be Obama’s fault, according to the right wing. The “government” is lying to us, they claim. And even though the right wing railed against Obama’s supposed “czars” in dealing with serious issues — remember that? — now they want an Ebola czar. Outgoing Rep. Jack Kingston (R, Ga.), told the Washington Examiner that the U.S. needs a “George Mitchell type character” to lead “one central office that’s a clearinghouse” to unify the efforts of government entities like the National Institutes of Health and the CDC. Um, I hate to break it to Kingston, but the NIH and the CDC work together pretty closely.

These attention-getting rants also don’t address two other problems. One is the fact that public health funding has been cut by Congress, mainly because of the sequester legislation passed a few years ago and never undone. Two is the fact that Senate Republicans have been blocking the confirmation of the U.S. surgeon general candidate, Dr. Vivek Hallegere Murthy. They are taking marching orders from the National Rifle Association, according to a commentary by Bill Moyers, because Dr. Murthy has expressed support for common-sense gun-safety measures supported by a majority of Americans. He wants to treat gun violence as a public health issue, as does every other medical association.

Possibly the biggest problem in all of this overblown hype is the overcrowding that may hit U.S. hospital emergency departments. People with real symptoms, like fever, aches, diarrhea, vomiting, etc., will think they have Ebola, and will visit ERs for treatment. There already have been cases in New Orleans and Washington, D.C., in which Ebola was suspected and ruled out. Ebola symptoms are similar to symptoms of many other diseases, including — you guessed it — influenza.

So I said it before, and I’ll say it again: Get a flu shot.

One Comment on “Ebola frenzy overtakes U.S. media

  1. Pingback: The Media’s Overreaction to Ebola Is Sending a Chill Through My Coworkers at Doctors Without Borders | Contains Real Martin

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