Ebola: where the fear should lie

A false-colour electron micrograph of Ebola virus particles (green) attached to and budding from an infected cell (blue) at 25,000x magnification Photo credit (all photos): NIAID

A false-colour electron micrograph of Ebola virus particles (green) attached to and budding from an infected cell (blue) at 25,000x magnification
Photo credit (all photos): NIAID

If you type in ‘Ebola’ into Google and read the list of news articles released in the past 24 hours, you might just think that you are going to die.

Over the past few weeks, the news has been saturated with the outbreak of Ebola. It’s more than likely that any one person has been confronted by a headline that spells ‘Ebola Could Kill Us All’.

Alarmingly for hypochondriacs, the first symptom of Ebola Virus Disease might even be a case of the hiccups, before progressing into something very grave indeed – massive internal bleeding, known as hemorrhagic fever, which only 10% survive. Such brutality has torn communities of West Africa apart, with over 4500 lives lost.

The news of the death of US citizen Thomas Duncan at the start of October has been met with an explosion of Ebola-related headlines. Suddenly we are being told that Heathrow airport is screening flight arrivals, and the UK Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt expects 10 cases of Ebola by Christmas.

Scanning electron micrograph of a single Ebola virus particle budding from the surface of a cell

Scanning electron micrograph of a single Ebola virus particle budding from the surface of a cell

Even the word ‘Ebola’ evokes powerful connotations in the mind that grab the most sensitive of heartstrings. The virus is a monster that lurks in the dark, ready to devour you internally and leave a bloody, isolated and undignified exit from the world.

With a knot in our stomachs, we ask: “Is Ebola here?” Or is this mere sensationalism at work?

The comparisons between affected communities such as those of Liberia, with Dallas or London, are quite frankly irresponsible. Liberia, post civil war, simply cannot deal with Ebola. With its stretched resources battling other parasitic diseases like Malaria and Lassa Fever, and only 51 doctors catering a population of 4.2 million people, the situation is incomparable. Ebola is deadly and kills 70% of those infected, but it is not very contagious and should easily be contained. With the infected so obviously symptomatic, it is hard to imagine anyone in the UK passing on the virus without making national headlines.

Sensationalism in the media has the potential for gross harm. It has cost a reemergence of measles, by leading people to believe that the MMR vaccine would leave their children autistic. It has influenced the stigmatization of gay men, who were supposedly responsible for the AIDS epidemic.

Scanning electron micrograph of Ebola virus budding from the surface of an African green monkey kidney epithelial cell

Scanning electron micrograph of Ebola virus budding from the surface of an African green monkey kidney epithelial cell

Once again, we are being led to face the wrong direction.

Seeing ‘Ebola’ trending on Facebook and Twitter for the reason that the world might be facing a biological apocalypse is disheartening to see, because it’s a waste of social media’s energy. This summer, we witnessed the power of social media on a charitable stage, where mass awareness over the debilitating effects of Lou Gehrig’s disease raised over $100 million.

Money needs to be raised to slow down a crisis in Western Africa that is constantly gaining speed, and so we need to channel our anxiety into fundraising towards the medical staff and supplies that are so desperately needed in areas of poor health infrastructure.

Ebola truly is the monster of a living nightmare portrayed by the media, but is it lying under our bed?

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