One Tweet Perfectly Sums Up the Problem With How Americans Talk About Epidemics

One Tweet Perfectly Sums Up the Problem With How Americans Talk About Epidemics
Source: Getty Images
Source: Getty Images

America's reaction to two cases of Ebola transmitted in hospitals? A cataclysmic freakout.

America's reaction to a deadly measles outbreak in 14 states? "Meh."

A Nigerian satirist is using the U.S. measles outbreak to remind Americans of its overreaction to the West African Ebola epidemic, during which politicians like New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie put nurses who had tested negative for the virus in quarantine and right-leaning publications like the National Review called for a travel ban on citizens of countries gripped by the epidemic. 

Elnathan John, a novelist and lawyer, had a brilliant public health proposal in response to the outbreak:

American cluelessness: The U.S. flipped its collective shit over two Ebola cases (later cured) in a Texas hospital, declaring anyone of West African descent a possible carrier and supporting by more than 70% a ban on civilian air travel to and from any of the countries affected by the epidemic. Yet somehow, with a deadly disease roaring back from the brink of extinction to sickening more than 100 people, we still can't be bothered to get vaccinated.

The measles epidemic represents much more of a threat to American public health than Ebola ever did. Ebola, despite the horror of its symptoms, is difficult to transmit (how frequently do you come in contact with another person's blood, semen or fecal matter in the course of a day?), whereas the measles virus is one of the most contagious pathogens in the world. Spread by coughing and sneezing, the measles virus can also live for up to two hours in an airspace where a sick person coughed or sneezed. For every person who becomes ill with the measles, 90% of those close to that person will become infected. If only there were a vaccine — oh wait, there's a vaccine that has lead to a 99% reduction in measles cases in the United States since it's been implemented.

At least Google Trends is indicating that people are paying more attention:

This overreaction to Ebola and underreaction to measles isn't just dumb — it's dangerous. Proposed air bans represented an existential threat to African public health, making it harder to track those who were infected and more difficult for aid workers to reach affected areas. 

Neglecting measles vaccinations represents a similar threat to public health right here in the United States. The California Department of Public Health possesses the vaccination records of 34 people affected by the Disneyland measles outbreak, and only five have received both doses of the measles vaccine. Nationally, health officials are seeing the same trend. "This is not a problem with the measles vaccine not working," said Dr. Anne Schuchat, director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, in a press conference last week, as reported by Yahoo! News. "This is a problem of the measles vaccine not being used."

A subsequent tweet by John indicates that he may be smarter than the estimated 10% of American parents who refuse to vaccinate their children for measles:

How much do you trust the information in this article?

Scott Bixby

Scott is a senior correspondent at Mic, covering the Republican presidential campaign and LGBT issues. He is based in New York and can be reached at scott@mic.com.

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