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Health

How the media has failed us regarding America's first Ebola case

Flickr: Matt Stephenson

You’ve probably heard by now that the US has just had its first confirmed case of Ebola. That is to say, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed a patient at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Dallas was the first person to be diagnosed in the United States with the Ebola virus. Now, it seems there may be a second Ebola patient who had close contact with the first, although this hasn’t yet been confirmed.

When I first heard this news I was stunned and unsure how to react. My reason told me that I knew all along this would happen- with international travel it was only a matter of time. But my emotions had a mind of their own. Fear and momentary panic set in when I acknowledged that this terrifying disease had made its way closer to me.

Fortunately I was reminded by my incredibly level-headed editor: STOP FREAKING OUT.

And he was right. This is what we know:

There will likely be more Ebola patients diagnosed in the US who have arrived from West Africa or been in contact with someone from there.

That said, the chances of an actual outbreak in the US, or any developed country for that matter are incredibly slim. And there are a lot of reasons for that.

We have a strong, reliable healthcare system that is prepared for this kind of situation. Unlike in West Africa where patients have found themselves in healthcare centers that lacked beds, medical equipment, and had a shortage of healthcare professionals, healthcare centers in the US won’t run into this problem because we have the resources and the infrastructure in place.

While Americans often have gripes about our healthcare system, to a much higher degree than West Africa, we trust our government, trust our doctors, and trust that we’re getting the best care available. In West Africa, some who were infected with Ebola chose to stay home because they didn’t have that level of confidence, causing the virus to spread further.

Thirdly, just look at how news has traveled with only one reported case of Ebola in the states. Thanks to various news outlets and word of mouth I think it’s fair to say that most Americans have some knowledge about Ebola, and know how to get reliable information on how it spreads. In West Africa a lack of education and knowledge on the subject has been a difficult barrier to overcome.

And finally, there’s one more point I want to make: Up until this most recent case, the US has seen 5 Ebola patients (mostly healthcare workers) who were diagnosed abroad and brought back to the US for treatment. All 5 have survived. Now I’m not a medical expert, and I know that this sample size is too small to draw any conclusions as to what ensured their survival, but this further illustrates in a small way how effectively the virus can be managed in an advanced healthcare system like the one we have here.

Some news outlets will use frightening headlines to get our attention and believe me, I fall for it every time. But what’s really alarming is this: stories focused on the US have received far more attention than those in West Africa, despite the fact that the situation is far more serious in developing countries. Let’s not forget that.

Sign the petition to let world leaders know we’re counting on them to make strong commitments to see an end to the Ebola epidemic now.


In the meantime, know this:

You can’t get Ebola through air.

You can’t get Ebola through water.

You can’t get Ebola through food in the US.

Ebola can only spread through contact with the blood or body fluids of a person or animal who is sick or has died of Ebola.

Visit whitehouse.gov for more information.

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Christina Nuñez

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