In the midst of the current Ebola crisis facing West Africa, good news is in short supply. Media outlets seemed positively clogged with information that seems designed to ensure that you never get another night of restful sleep ever again. That’s why this morning’s announcement from drug manufacturer Johnson & Johnson is so comforting. The pharmaceutical giant has announced that, in January, it will begin trials of a vaccine designed to prevent Ebola.
Johnson & Johnson have stated publicly that they intend to join forces with Britain’s GlaxoSmithKline – who themselves are working on a vaccine – in order to ensure that the most reliable product is delivered to the ailing victims of Ebola. Johnson & Johnson has committed $200 million in funds to help speed the release of the potentially life-saving vaccine.
It bears mentioning that Johnson & Johnson – whose motives are surely altruistic – still stands to make a good chunk of change with these vaccines. In the wake of the West African outbreak, you can bet that scores of Americans will be lining up to make sure they’re not in any danger of catching the Ebola. However, can you blame Johnson & Johnson for the pervasive fear that has beset the country? Sure, they may ultimately turn a pretty sizeable profit, but that’s capitalism; they’re providing a widely desired product at a time when it’s most craved.
In January, two of the most successful vaccines will be used in widespread trials throughout the United States, Europe, and perhaps most telling, West Africa. According to the New York Times, “At least three other vaccines will begin safety testing in healthy volunteers outside the outbreak zone in the first quarter of 2015.” The ultimate goal is to have a quarter of a million Ebola vaccines available by next May. Given that experts believe the current outbreak could extend as long as 18 more months, the vaccine will surely still valuable come the middle of next year.
With all the free-flowing fear surrounding the West African outbreak, it’s nice to get a piece of solidly positive news. Especially considering that the media doesn’t seem quite as concerned with reporting the whole story as they are committed to keeping you tuned in to the ongoing crisis. You can call the media’s coverage of Ebola irresponsible, unethical, even despicable, but it’s working.
Right now, the United States is under the spell of a fear so palpable we’re all afraid we’re going to die from a disease that would be virtually impossible to catch in the states. It’s in the interest of assuaging some of that fear-bola that we have collected some of the bright spots, some of the hard truths and some of the lunacy that’s running alongside the increasingly frantic Ebola circus. So, join us, won’t you, as we take a look at the real epidemic facing America in 2014.
The actual facts about Ebola
Before we dive fully into the fray, let’s take a few seconds to consider some of the facts (and some of the myths) as they pertain to this outbreak of the Ebola virus. First, it’s true that this is the biggest outbreak in recorded history. According to the CDC, more than 4,600 people have been clinically diagnosed with Ebola. What’s even more concerning is that there could be even more uncounted cases wandering around West Africa. Those are big, scary facts. In West Africa, Ebola is a real menace.
But only around West Africa, specifically Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone. Sierra Leone, the closest of these afflicted countries to the United States, is a whopping 5,500 miles away (and then some). That’s a pretty long way for a virus that’s not airborne to travel. If you’re in one of these places, you should exercise extreme caution. If you’re not, though, and you’re not planning on going there, then the odds are pretty solidly against you catching Ebola.
Another reason you might have a hard time contracting the disease is the difference between infectious and contagious. Both words are designed to fill the listener with dread, but there’s a very pronounced difference between the two. “Infectious” diseases are diseases that can be spread with only a very small amount. It takes only a tiny bit of Ebola to spread the disease. Ebola is infectious, but it’s not contagious. “Contagious” diseases are diseases that are easy to spread, which is definitely not the case with Ebola, because you have to be in close, personal contact with an infected person (like, swapping bodily fluids close) to even have a chance of catching the disease.
Even if you do catch it, the odds of it killing you is pretty low. Especially if you’re in the United States. That’s because, even with the media loudly claiming that Ebola has a 90% fatality rate, that number is simply way too high. Yes, in the past, some outbreaks have killed some ninety percent of the afflicted. All time, though (and as is true in West Africa), the disease has about a 50% mortality rate (and in the United States it’s closer to one in four).
Ebola is devastating, even if you don’t catch it
On Wednesday, October 8th, Liberian national Thomas Eric Duncan became the first person in America to die from Ebola. At the time the disease was discovered, Duncan was living with a woman named Louise Troh. Once Duncan was diagnosed, he, Troh and the three young men living with them (it’s an informal adoptive situation), were moved to quarantine for the standard 21-day waiting period. When Troh and her “boys” emerged symptom-free three weeks later, they found themselves in a community gripped by fear.
Troh’s job? Gone. Her housing prospects? Evaporated. So fearful is the Dallas community that it seems the only place Troh can find anything approaching compassion is at her church. This in spite of repeated statements from health officials that Ebola is no longer contagious 21 days after exposure. Even a helping hand from Dallas’ mayor has done nothing to assuage the fear and anxiety that greets Troh and her three dependents every day.
While Troh has shown no signs of infection, the fear cultivated by the onslaught of frantic media coverage has wormed its way into the minds of Dallas locals, leaving them literally petrified in spite of the scientifically proven lack of danger.
Troh’s case is perhaps the most extreme example of an epidemic of fear that’s taken over the country. To date, only 8 Ebola cases have been confirmed in the United States and all those people either contracted the disease in one of the afflicted West African countries, or they were in close contact with Duncan. That’s it. Couple that information with the incredibly small chance of actually catching the disease and you’d think that’d put the kibosh on fear.
Yet, the Washington Post still ran this scary headline that indicated that two-thirds of Americans are afraid of an epidemic striking America. How do you combat this kind of titanic, rationality-crushing fear? Historically, we’d get the opportunity to use our brains and eventually let calm reason win the day. Unfortunately, these days we have myriad sources who are working overtime to make sure that you’re properly afraid for your life. The sad fact is, none of the hard facts truly matter when there’s air time to fill, so the scariest numbers become the most prominent numbers, and relaxing truths get overrun by sexier thrills, and the people we rely on for intelligent advice, well …
Scientists say a lot of fun, contradictory stuff
In times of crisis like this, the world turns to its most learned minds in hope of some bit of knowledge that may alleviate our collective concern. Unfortunately, thanks to a fun 24-hour news cycle and their even more fun corporate agendas, it’s increasingly easy to confuse a legitimate man of letters with some shill who gets a fancy introduction and a nice-sounding title in exchange for saying something horrifying (and outright false).
Now, most news outlets (yeahstub.com included) are dying to lure you in with a big, splashy headline that will keep you up at night. Fortunately, lots of those same outlets are hesitant to use their words to evacuate your bowels, so while the headlines are scary, the facts contained within just aren’t. So, when you look at Bloomberg.com and you see a terrifying headline like, “U.S. Ebola Cases May Exceed Two Dozen by November, Researchers Say,” or if you check out Breitbart and see, “MEDICAL RESEARCH ORG CIDRAP: EBOLA TRANSMITTABLE BY AIR” in big, threatening caps, it’s easy to be afraid. Especially since research suggests that America is a nation that only reads headlines.
If you’re one of the few people who do dig past those big scary attention-grabbers, then you’ll find that in the Bloomberg article, the second paragraph begins, “The actual number probably will be far smaller and limited to a couple of airline passengers who enter the country already infected without showing symptoms, and the health workers who care for them …” As to that Breitbart piece, the opening paragraph reduces that definite transmission through air headline to simply pointing out that Ebola “has the potential” to go airborne. This is a common theme of scare-tactic journalism. The headline says something anxiety-inducing and the article behind essentially reads, “No, that won’t really happen. Psych!”
Here’s what reputable scientists want you to know about Ebola: you won’t catch it. Or, in the case of this New York Times piece, the message is: yeah, Ebola is scary, but human’s are really good at crushing nature under our thumb and the smartest folks in the world are on the case.
If that doesn’t calm you down a bit, in a few months you’ll likely be able to get your hands on your choice of Ebola cure, since not one, but two cures (one from Canada and one from the United States) are now doing very well in human trials. So, chill out, folks! Our best and brightest nerds have things well under control!
The Ebola marketplace
But while those nerds dissect their frogs and pour foamy liquids into beakers, there’s still lots of Ebola with which to terrify you! You know what that means don’t you? Act like an American and buy your way to safety.
In the wake of the Ebola crisis, it probably won’t surprise you to discover that one producer of hazardous materials suits (also known as hazmat suits) has seen its stock prices soar to more than 274 percent of their original worth. Another company, a manufacturer of face masks and protective gear has seen its stock prices increase 245 percent.
But wait, there’s more! Need an Ebola preparedness kit? Those’ll run you a clean hundred bucks on Amazon (spoiler alert: you do not need an Ebola preparedness kit). Because knowledge is the greatest weapon (unless you have a gun), there’s also the recent surge in Ebola-lit. As many as 84 books on the subject have been independently published in the last 100 or so days. Need to keep track of the disease killing people 5,000 miles away? There’s the Ebola tracking app! If you want to get really dark about buying your Ebola shield, you can always hit the black market, where Ebola survivor blood is going for premium prices. After all, who cares if you get HIV so long as you’re free of Ebola … wait.
Not content to sit around and wait until you get Ebola? You can prepare for the disease with a healthy dose of insurance. Sure, there’s no cure or vaccine for the virus, but at least you can sue the crap out of your employer once you contract the fatal disease. Be sure to sign up for your worker’s compensation benefits, now!
You know what all of these products have in common? They will substantially decrease the weight of your wallet while simultaneously making you exactly no safer against Ebola. Okay, we can probably acknowledge the legitimacy of the hazmat suit, that would probably work. But the rest of those are useless. You know what scientists are indicating is very useful to preventing Ebola? Weed.
So put that in your pipe where you can (legally) smoke it. No, literally. It could save your life.
Ebola is out there, just looking for your child
Now that you’re high and calm and reasonably safe from Ebola, it’s time to start thinking about the kids. Did you know that, right now, Ebola is lurking through a playground trying to sell your child cigarettes and get them to drop out of school? Okay, that’s probably not true, but don’t tell people in Ohio.
Last week, schools in the Solon City School District were closed after it was discovered that “a middle school staff member may have possibly traveled on the same airplane, though not the same flight, as Amber Joy Vinson, the Dallas nurse who was recently diagnosed with the virus.” Read that again; the staff member and the nurse who had Ebola didn’t even share the same flight. That’s like burning down your house because someone broke a window.
If the real news isn’t enough to get you to put your children in a plastic bubble, there’s incredibly irresponsible bold-faced lies like this article from the National Report that claims 17 kindergarteners in Texas have all come down with Ebola. Even though this is patently untrue (why else do you think the National Report is the only team with this news?), quotes like the following are still pretty terrifying:
“It was like a domino effect. First one child, then two, then 3. Pretty soon nearly all of them were sick. I am scared because as you know, children smear their germs all over everything. I am constantly sanitizing surfaces, wiping faces and hands. Who knows how many people have become infected. It’s tragic and it’s a reality.”
It’s not a reality. Not even slightly or you would have heard about it (trust me). Ebola is not out to get your child. They’re more at risk for getting struck by lightning than they are at risk for catching Ebola. These articles are designed to make you worry for the safety of the ones you love, in spite of the fact that there’s nothing to worry about. Pretty neat trick, huh?
Mr. Ebola goes to Washington
Okay, let’s begin the political portion of our discussion with a simple fact. Ebola is not a Republican. It’s also true that Ebola has never once voted for Barack Obama. You see, contrary to what the American public seems to believe, not every issue can be boiled down to party politics. Of course, that hasn’t stopped both politicians and politically-minded organizations from engaging in their favorite game (the blame one) and working overtime to make you think that Ebola is the fault of the opposing party.
Let’s take for instance this fun, new ad from the well-intentioned dummies at the Agenda Project, a name that in no way sounds like a team of supervillains from the 1980’s. In just a single minute, this ad manages to combine facts, figures and stark images of the dead and dying to try and convince you that the Ebola outbreak is due to GOP budget cuts. It almost works … until you realize that the budget for the CDC and NIH have been in the hands of both Democrats and Republicans for the last decade.
Our more politically-minded readers may also have gotten some pretty alarming emails in their inbox over the past few weeks. These messages feature very somber, subtle subjects like, “DON’T LET OBAMA’S LIES ABOUT EBOLA KILL YOU.” Incidentally, the rest of the email tries to claim that the West African outbreak was actually engineered as a way for the United States to control the growing population … so, you know, it’s smart.
Just in case you’re totally convinced that Ebola is playing sides in politics, you can always kit out your bumper with one of a growing variety of bumper stickers. The favorite around the office is, “Jesus Saves. Ebola Kills. Obama golfs.” because it’s a really beautiful execution of the Socratic method.
Fun with Ebola conspiracies!
Just in case you’re not convinced that fear is the best way to spend your life, you could always try an intense dose of paranoia. “The government is trying to kill us” is really hot right now.
To see proof of this, you need look no further than the scads of stories that are trying to convince you that Ebola is not actually killing thousands in West Africa. Take for instance, the appearance of Clipboard Guy a shadowy figure who was on the scene in Dallas as an Ebola patient, Amber Vinson, was brought to a local hospital. The still unnamed man was there in mere street clothes as a team wearing full hazmat gear transported Vinson. It led to several news outlets, like CBS and the Daily Mail to post really poorly thought out pieces asking why someone would be around an Ebola victim without also being in protective gear. It was truly a head scratcher …
Until a real, live reporter actually picked up the phone and discovered (surprise!) the man was only following protocol. According to a representative, “Standard protocol is for him to wear street clothes … because the suits can block field of vision and hearing …” I know, I know a likely story.
Well, if you didn’t believe that explanation, then it’s probably already too late to warn you about the guy in Ghana who claims that Ebola is not only not spreading, but it’s also not a disease. Regardless of the fact that Ghana is fully 600 miles away from the closest country hit by Ebola (did the guy use a telescope?), this seems totally legit. After all, the article is only asking us to believe that every medical organization on the planet decided to participate in the biggest fraud ever perpetrated against mankind (even bigger than the moon landing). I guess they need to rationalize those bigger budgets somehow.
Things aren’t as dire as people want you to believe
If there’s one thing to take away from this entire exercise, please keep the title of this last section in your minds. News agencies need ratings, and nothing gets people glued to their TV sets like a healthy dose of impending doom. Politicians need votes, and taking advantage of a hot button topic to cast the illusion of guilt on the opposing team is a time-tested method for doing so. In other words, things are not as dire as you have been led to believe.
On Monday, the World Health Organization officially announced an end to the Ebola epidemic in Nigeria. According to the WHO’s own standards, “the end of an Ebola virus disease outbreak in a country can be declared once 42 days have passed and no new cases have been detected.” The country has been cleared thanks to an international effort that saw an increase in awareness, education and vigilance. This same effort has been applied universally in countries that have been affected by the Ebola enterovirus and has substantially curbed the threat Ebola poses.
It should be comforting to know that even in a country that was relatively close to the initial outbreak (close compared to the U.S. at least) and funded substantially less than the United States, was still able to contain the virus with relative success. Only 19 cases and 7 deaths were attributed to the disease, a number that – it’s reasonable to assume – will be lower in the more strictly monitored United States.
Here’s another figure to throw at you. In the U.S. more than 80% of Ebola patients survive. Of course, that’s based on a sample size of 8, but it’s still a reliable number to lean on, because the odds of many more cases of the Ebola enterovirus are slim, thanks to the good people who rapidly identified the first few stateside cases.
So, let’s just sum it all up. Ebola: it’s incredibly hard to catch unless you’re touching an infected person with an ungloved hand. It’s mortality rate is extremely low in America. It’s not airborne. There are teams and teams of people who are fretting over containment, teams of people who are spectacularly well-trained to do so. And, even if you do catch it (and you have a better chance of dating Taylor Swift), the odds are good a cure will be in place by the time you feel the fever.
In other words, Ebola: it’s being handled.