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Fear goes viral: Ebola panic infects American minds

By Hai Ting Tan SPECIAL TO THE CHRONICLE

With the number of Ebola cases in West Africa potentially reaching 10,000 per week by December, Ebola has become the largest outbreak in history. But how many of us actually bothered to learn about the virus prior to it infecting eight people on U.S. soil?

Ebola first appeared in 1976 in Central and West Africa found in both humans and non-human primates. The virus spreads from primate to human through close contact with its sweat, blood, secretions, organs or other body fluids and is introduced into the human community via direct contact with broken skin of mucous membranes and indirect contact with environments contaminated with such fluids.

When Nina Pham, a nurse at the Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital, became the first person within the U.S. to contract the Ebola virus, Dallas mayor Mike Rawlings devised an action plan. Meanwhile, Barack Obama was spotted at Fort Belvoir Golf Club playing his 200th round of golf as president.

Only after facing criticism and backlash for his inadequate prioritizing of the crisis did President Obama shorten his fundraising trips, hinting as to how serious the White House is now taking the threat posed by Ebola.

President Obama has ordered the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to send a response team within 24 hours of diagnosis to ensure that safety procedures are followed in lieu of handling any future infections.

With eight confirmed cases of Ebola in the United States, Americans’ anxiety regarding the deadly virus spikes every day. A poll conducted by the Washington Post shows that 43 percent of Americans worry that they or someone in their family will contract the disease, and 31 percent are concerned that there could be a “widespread Ebola epidemic” in the country. However, their anxiety might be due to their misunderstanding toward the disease.

According to a new Kaiser Family Foundation Tracking Poll, despite 70 percent of U.S. adults claiming that they follow news regarding Ebola, only 36 percent are aware that the virus is only contagious if the victim shows symptoms. The poll also found that the majority of people know how the disease spreads, but only 55 percent knew that you cannot be contaminated by shaking hands with someone who had been exposed to Ebola but has yet to show symptoms.

A Harvard University poll conducted on 1,004 U.S. adults has concluded that 85 percent of its participants thought that the disease spreads through sneezing or coughing, even though World Health Organization says that it is unlikely that the deadly virus can be transmitted in such form.

Hours after the death of Thomas Eric Duncan, new cases of Ebola were reported in various cities – all later labeled as “no threat,” therefore proving that the false alarms have simply grown louder.

And Duncan’s fiancee, Louise Troh, who obviously had an intimate relationship with Duncan, has shown no signs of infection.

The level of anxiety and fear spreading across the country has gone overboard, and the media play a huge hand.

With constant broadcasts of stories associated with the Ebola virus, the audience becomes consumed by the news regarding the disease, and so they overestimate their chances of being infected with the virus.

The views and opinions expressed in the Op-Ed section are those of the authors of the articles. They are not an endorsement of the views of The Chronicle or its staff. The Chronicle does not discriminate based on the opinions of the authors. 

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