OK, everybody, just calm the heck down. Ebola is not going to kill you.
You’re more likely to get struck by lightning than you are to die of Ebola. You’re more likely to die of food poisoning (as 3,000 people a year do) than you are of Ebola. You’re even more likely to get killed by a guy shooting up your workplace, school, or local McDonald’s than you are by Ebola.
Now, don’t you feel better?
It’s true that there have now been a whopping three reported cases of Ebola in the U.S. The first was Thomas Duncan, who apparently contracted the disease while visiting his relatives in Liberia. He then apparently lied about his exposure to the disease to Liberian authorities before returning here. (Liberia threatened to prosecute him for that, but the poor fellow died before they could.)
The other two victims are health care workers who treated Duncan, all of whom caught Ebola in the only way you can: by contact with the bodily fluids of a person showing symptoms.
This last part is key: You’re only infectious if you’re showing symptoms. This is why that second nurse, who got on an airplane to go to Cleveland to plan her wedding after treating Duncan, most likely hasn’t infected anyone.
Just to be on the safe side, the people on the plane with her are getting checked, but unless she was both (1) symptomatic; and (2) drooling, bleeding, spitting, sweating on, or otherwise enfluidizing her fellow passengers, they should be in the clear. (Yes, I made that word “enfluidizing” up. Maybe it’ll catch on.)
The biggest fear people have about Ebola seems to be the possibility that it will suddenly mutate and go airborne, meaning you wouldn’t have to come into contact with an infected person’s bodily fluids to get it. If that happened, you could get it just by being in the same room with an infected person.
But, as Granddaddy used to say, “If a frog had wings, he wouldn’t bump his butt when he jumps.” Which is to say, Ebola’s not airborne, and the chances of it getting that way are — well, the aforementioned frog has about as good a chance of developing wings.
Don’t just take my word for it, or even Grandaddy’s. Dr. Vincent Racaniello, a professor of microbiology and immunology in the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Columbia University, a man who’s been doing research on viruses since 1975, writes in his blog: “We can ask: Has any human virus ever changed its mode of transmission? The answer is no. We have been studying viruses for over 100 years, and we’ve never seen a human virus change the way it is transmitted.”
HIV, he notes, can still only be transmitted via sex, dirty needles, or childbirth. Same for Hepatitis C. Both have infected millions, and they haven’t changed the way they do it. Ever.
Sure, you can say, “Just because we’ve never seen a virus change how it spreads before doesn’t mean it won’t this time.” But you could just as easily say, “Just because we’ve never seen a virus mutate so as to cause people to turn into flesh-eating zombies doesn’t mean one never will.”
This isn’t a scary thriller novel. It’s not a disaster movie. We don’t live in Africa. There’s no need to stock up on plastic sheeting and duct tape. This can be contained, and it will be.
The kind of hysteria we’ve seen, with CNN trotting out thriller author Robin Cook as not only an expert but as “the man who wrote the book on Ebola,” when what he wrote was an admittedly entertaining but fanciful novel, is irresponsible.
The man’s pre-author job was as an ophthalmologist, for crying out loud. For him to say, “This kind of an illness is probably the scariest thing we can deal with,” is not only not helpful, it’s downright dangerous. Hysteria, for example, is a lot scarier, because it makes people do terrible things.