Viral Paranoia

posted in: Opinion | 0

Ed Said: Edward Gelernt’s comments on the world

This week: Ebola

More Americans have been married to Kim Kardashian than have died from Ebola.

Yes, it’s a virus.  Yes, its fatality rate is about 50 percent, perhaps higher in this particular outbreak.  But will it kill you?  That depends on a few factors: do you plan on risking all your friendships by travelling to Liberia or Sierra Leone in the near future?  Are you a health worker who shirks the medical procedure that you spent seven years learning?  Do you have a family history of lethal viruses spontaneously forming from non-living compounds in your intestines?  If you answered yes to any of these questions, you may be at risk for Ebola.  Otherwise, I wouldn’t worry about it, and you shouldn’t either.

Some facts: Zaire ebolavirus, better known as Ebola virus (EBOV), causes an often fatal hemorrhagic fever in humans and other primates, yielding basic symptoms like fever and sore throat that ultimately evolve into rash, diarrhea and ultimately internal and external bleeding.  The virus is successful in transmission because it induces exudation of bodily fluids, the very medium by which it transfers itself from host to host.

This all seems pretty intimidating, no doubt.  But the virus is only transmitted if bodily fluids of an infected person touch another person.  Ebola aside, how many people’s body fluids do you touch daily, on average?  If your answer was greater than zero and you are not a medical professional, you have problems substantially more concerning than risk of contracting Ebola.  And despite what you may have heard about the virus’ three-week incubation period, an infected individual is only contagious for a very short amount of time before becoming symptomatic.  If you really want to know where the danger lies: male survivors of the disease can spread it as an STD for up to two months after infection.  Now there’s a good reason to listen to what they tell you in health class.

Guess how many cases of Ebola have been reported in the United States?  Eight.  You can count them on your hands and still have enough fingers left to give your friend bunny ears.  The virus spread from the now-infamous Thomas Eric Duncan, a Liberian who died in Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital in Dallas, to two nurses at the hospital who are reported to have violated standard protocol.  The accusations of who was to blame over the virus’s unfortunate spread became more heated than the fever the virus yields.  When CDC Director Tom Frieden announced a breach of protocol, National Nurses United, a nurses’ union sticking up for the “scapegoated” hospital, promptly criticized him–and then turned around and blamed the hospital themselves two days later.

And now that the disease has reached full eight-patient penetration, authorities have decided that rather than actually figure out how to stop it, a more effective use of their time would be to blame each other.  The CDC blames Texas Health Presbyterian and its infected nurse.  Texas Health Presbyterian and its infected nurse blame the CDC and National Nurses United.  National Nurses United blames Texas Health Presbyterian and the CDC.  Democrats blame Republicans.  Republicans blame Democrats.  The NIH blames all of Congress.  You know what?  It’s my fault.  I, Edward Nathan Gelernt, take all the blame for Ebola.  If it’ll get everyone to shut up, come up with a cure, and get back to work, you can go ahead and blame me.  Just don’t intentionally infect me with it.

I’m not suggesting that Ebola is entirely inconsequential.  Thousands of Africans have already died and continue to die every day from this terrible disease.  As a species, we have a duty to aid Africa and its substantially less developed nation from the virus.  But that doesn’t mean we’re all going to die from it, whatever the rabid news media may want us to believe. Spreading blame to others gets us nowhere closer to helping solve this medical emergency, but we continue to spread it: I think my father has heard more of Tom Frieden in the last week than he did in all four years that they went to medical school together.  Ebola has been bent as far out of proportion as the iPhone 6.

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