The Ebola virus is scary: It's a deadly disease that's been built up in the American imagination as an unseen, incurable killer that could bring the U.S. to its knees. Between reports that 3,300 people died in West Africa's Ebola outbreak, eerie photos of Sierra Leone's desperate attempt to control the virus and now news that nearly 100 people may have been exposed to the virus in the Dallas area, it's easy to understand why many Americans are so concerned.
But this image macro, published by the New Republic's Rebecca Leber, shows why you shouldn't panic:
The U.S. is way better equipped to deal with Ebola than West Africa: Reuters notes that while the West Africa epidemic "has overwhelmed regional health sectors still struggling to rebuild after years of civil war and turmoil," the U.S. won't have the same experience. The country's medical facilities, like Emory University Hospital (where two doctors infected with the virus were treated and released in August), are far better equipped to isolate Ebola before it becomes a full-scale outbreak.
"The National Institutes of Health recently admitted an American doctor exposed to the virus while volunteering in Sierra Leone. Four other patients have been treated at hospitals in Georgia and Nebraska," the Associated Press reports. As epidemiologist Tara Smith has written for Mic, the U.S. is well-prepared to contain and control the disease within our borders — and it has in the past.
"In U.S. hospitals, patients are isolated in hospital rooms specially set up for biocontainment, they receive specialized care and hydration, and have access to an experimental vaccine," Leber wrote. "That's not happening in West Africa. In order to end this epidemic there, the CDC estimates, at least 70 percent of patients must be isolated in hospitals. In Liberia, the figure is just 18 percent.
"Over the last few weeks, the world has stepped up its response, with the U.S. committing to send military personnel to help train and build 17 treatment centers with 100 beds each. It still won't be enough."
This doesn't mean Ebola is nothing to worry about. After all, we have to actually identify a patient before they can be administered the proper medical care. And that nearly didn't happen in Texas: The first Ebola patient diagnosed in the U.S. initially told a nurse "he had recently been in an area affected by the deadly disease, but that information was not widely shared," the Associated Press reported. The man was admitted to Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Dallas two days later — only after his condition worsened.
So why are we freaking out? The media's fixation with Ebola is fueling the fire.
"It's likely partly because the outbreak, which is truly devastating for the people living in countries like Liberia and Sierra Leone, makes for such a dramatic story," wrote ThinkProgress' Tara Culp-Ressler wrote.
But it doesn't help matters when journalists let fear overcome logic and lace rational analysis with xenophobia:
Or prey on people's anxieties to politicize a public health emergency:
Or listen to conspiracy theorists:
The favorite — and terrible — maxim of broadcast journalism during the rise of TV news was "It bleeds, it leads." And that's especially true for the Internet age:
If you're actually worried about Ebola, don't watch TV: Call your doctor.
Editors Note: Mar. 3, 2015
An earlier version of this article cited Associated Press reporting, but did not include quotations around the cited passage. The story has been updated to fully attribute the Associated Press' language.