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Editorial: Ease off Ebola

By TNH Editorial Staff

On the Centers for Disease Control website, it says, “The 2014 Ebola epidemic is the largest in history, affecting multiple countries in West Africa.”

No, don’t worry. This is not another article or opinion to scare you into paralyzing fear or rushing to a clinic for experimental drugs. In fact, the Ebola scare is exactly that — a scare that has gripped our nation. The crisis itself, though, isn’t something the United States has to worry about.

Why is it okay to make that claim? UNH professor Robert McGrath openly said that there would be no outbreak in the United States to his Health Management & Policy 401 class (to which this writer is an avid attendee). On the same CDC webpage, it says, “Two imported cases, including one death, and two locally acquired cases in healthcare workers have been reported in the United States.” In other words, four people have been affected — out of the 317 million occupants of the U.S.

Let’s put this in perspective. A very rare bone condition called osteochondromatosis affects 1 in every 50,000 people in the U.S. It causes benign tumors to form on the bones, which can cause discomfort and warrant multiple surgeries over the course of a lifetime. In some cases, the tumors can cause serious problems, even death depending on their placement. Again, it’s a very rare condition. One in 50,000 people have it. Yet only four people in the U.S. have been diagnosed with Ebola. Which one should cause more concern?

It’s no surprise that the U.S. is in agitation. The media, which has been known to jump to conclusions and spread news like wildfire (take the Boston Marathon bombing suspects, for example), has done the same with Ebola. Search Google News for Ebola. On the top of the page, there is a story posted from BBC on Oct. 8. CNN followed up with one two hours ago. USA Today — three hours ago. The Guardian  — 15 hours ago. NBC News promises continuing coverage of the Ebola outbreak. Has your breath quickened yet?

But think about it. This presents a huge accomplishment for journalists everywhere. Breaking news means that people will look for updates, which means that advertisers will want to advertise more because more eyes are reading more pages/watching more news. Advertisers bring in the money. Journalists need to eat, too. However, when it’s at the expense of nation-wide peace, it is safe to say it isn’t worth the anxiety, overlooking facts, pushing eyeball-traffic and rushing something that is better left unrushed to a public that is nervous.

In an article in USA Today (the one from three hours ago), author Rem Rieder wrote, “Ebola has all the elements that can bring out journalism’s worst instincts, and in some cases already has, with cable being a prime offender. And it can be a social media nightmare as misinformation ricochets through the Twitterverse.”

If we look only at the news reports and constant updates, we only have reason to fear Ebola. But when we take time to consider the facts, the media’s outcries seem benign, trivial and even pushy. NPR did a story about how contagious Ebola is.

Michaeleen Doucleff, who wrote “No, seriously, how contagious is Ebola?” on NPR’s website, wrote, “The reproduction number, or ‘R nought,’ is a mathematical term that tells you how contagious an infectious disease is. Specifically, it’s the number of people who catch the disease from one sick person, on average, in an outbreak.”

According to the article, Measles is the most contagious disease known to man with an R0 sitting around 18. For HIV, the R0 sits between 2 and 4. For Ebola, it’s about 2.

The media has been effective in eliciting nation-wide panic with its rapid-fire reporting. Congratulations to them for spreading news like a California wildfire, but let’s remember: Truth and perspective come before news ratings.

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