I love a good Kim K jab, especially if it’s intended to calm down some of this Ebolanoia*. But I quickly realized that while it’s important to properly communicate how unlikely it is for someone in the US to be infected with Ebola, it is equally important not to downplay the seriousness of what’s happening in West Africa.
At this point, we’ve all talked with a person who’s terrified of contracting Ebola. Or maybe we’re that person ourselves. But honestly, the likelihood of someone in the US coming down with it is miniscule. There have been three confirmed cases and a total of 172 people are under surveillance due to their contact with the three cases. Sixty of those people have completed surveillance and are healthy. Ebola’s R0, the number of people one person with a disease is likely to infect unless precautions are taken, is between 1.5 and 2.
And precautions are being taken. We have been quarantining anyone who’s come into contact with the Ebola patients in the US. Ebola is only contagious once a person starts showing symptoms, so if someone in quarantine—the only people who had direct contact with the confirmed cases—shows symptoms, the newly-sick person will not be able to infect anyone else. This means that Ebola will almost certainly not be a problem in the US.
However, Ebola is a huge problem in West Africa. In the countries of Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone, more than 9000 people have contracted the disease, and half of them have died. People living in these countries are the ones who are at risk, not those of us sitting comfortably on our couches reading (and/or writing) blog posts about Ebola.
So, those of us in the US shouldn’t be worried about catching Ebola. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be worried. We just need to be worried about the right thing.
Although it’s killing West Africans almost exclusively, Ebola is a world-wide health concern. Not just in a don’t-want-to-spread-the-disease kind of way, but because every life matters. Each person infected with Ebola has a basic human right—the right to health—taken from them. This is an avoidable travesty. We know how to stop the epidemic, and yet we are not. The lives of the people of Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone, and other West African nations are meaningful.
If you’re one of the people who are convinced they’ll get Ebola sitting in a movie theater in New Jersey or on a plane to Kansas City, I urge you to channel that anxiety into something more constructive. Donations to organizations doing good work will likely be the best way to help. CNN has a good list. If financial support isn’t an option for you, become an educated megaphone for sane Ebola information. Learn what’s really going on and post about it on Facebook, talk to your coworkers, email your mom.
And if you make any more Kardashian+Ebola memes, send them my way.
*a portmanteau of Ebola and paranoia. I discovered and fell in love with this term via Maryn McKenna.