When crises occur, public reactions — no matter the ideological leanings — are often completely misguided.
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed on Sept. 30 that a patient in isolation in a Dallas hospital contracted the Ebola virus while traveling in Liberia. The agency is keeping tabs on everyone who came into contact with the individual, but it is unlikely that anyone is at risk.
Many people, whether driven by ignorance or by lack of anything better to do, have taken their misguided fears about the disease to Twitter, Tumblr and Facebook. If anyone has had an opinion on the terrifying Ebola outbreak, you can bet that it has been shared. I have seen social media posts featuring all kinds of outlandish opinions: that this is all President Obama’s fault (you may well ask how); that this is “the end of times”; or that everyone needs to travel by bubble suit in order to avoid bodily contact (which, frankly, just sounds fun to me).
I’ve also seen many more posts taking a more rational approach: “Stop talking about a disease that you’re never going to contract.” I have heard variants of this opinion expressed by many of my friends. In all honesty, I have the same thoughts.
Most people, most Oberlin students included, realize that we are really at no risk. As long as no one comes in contact with Ebola-ridden corpses or with the bodily fluids of someone showing symptoms, there is really no danger that the disease will spread. It is highly unlikely, in other words, that Ebola is going to reach Oberlin anytime soon. We can continue to worry about influenza — get your flu vaccine over fall break! — and the horrible “Oberlin plague” that seems to be ravaging the student body instead.
So, we can just forget about Ebola, right?
Wrong. People are still dying from Ebola — just not here. The disease has spread into an international outbreak in the West African countries of Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone (and, though the threat there is more localized, Nigeria). The World Health Organization, now classifying the outbreak as an epidemic, reports that over 5,300 cases of the disease have been diagnosed, with over 2,600 deaths occurring since March, when the outbreak was first reported. These cases represent a larger outbreak of the disease than ever before — greater even than the initial 1976 outbreak of the disease.
The disease is taking a massive toll, causing large numbers of people to die horrific deaths, and still no cure has still been found. Even after a vaccine reached trial stage, further delays have prevented its usage. The number of new cases is now said to be doubling every three weeks.
Ebola is simply not something to lightly brush aside.
If the virus continues to spread at the same rate, according to projections by the CDC, there will be over 500,000 cases cases by the end of January. The CDC and international agencies are doing what they can, but because the virus is now so widespread, it is also evolving rapidly. It is possible that the virus will adapt to spread more quickly. While it is likely that a vaccine will be available before the epidemic grows out of hand, this issue is still an international concern that deserves the global public’s attention.
Saying, “It doesn’t affect me,” is never a valid excuse for ignoring a problem as great as Ebola. Support research to develop a vaccine and cure. Educate your friends and acquaintances about the issue rather than telling them to stop talking about it. And above all, whatever your perspective may be, see Ebola for what it is: an epidemic that’s killing massive numbers of people.