Stercula: Ebola Fear Mongering


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The world is experiencing the worst Ebola virus epidemic on record. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Preventtion, western Africa has suffered 4,108 confirmed cases and 3,439 deaths (as of Oct. 3), but projected numbers are on the order of 7,492 cases. With several cases on U.S. soil and several obvious shortcomings from the CDC, the public is justifiably in an alarmed state. It is the media’s responsibility to educate the public in a timely manner without spreading unwarranted fear and anxiety.

Fear-mongering in the media is sadly nothing new, and our 24/7 always-on culture is no exception in being susceptible to sensationalism. Media outlets sensationalize because it makes for more entertaining news, and entertainment trumps fact in the game of ratings. The CDC and Texas/Nebraska biohazard teams are now doing everything they should be in regards to treatment.

They have isolated the patients and given them appropriate treatment, as well as monitor those who could have contracted the disease from the confirmed patients.

Thomas Duncan, who contracted the first confirmed U.S. case of Ebola, is receiving an experimental antiviral drug called brincidofovir, which has shown promise in treating Ebola. Since he was admitted to the hospital, Duncan has been changed from serious to critical condition. While this is unfortunate, it isn’t unexpected. Duncan went days without treatment, and unfortunately, this new drug might be too little, too late. It is extremely sad that Duncan’s life hangs in the balance. But that said, the outcome of his treatment does not weigh on the future of Ebola in the United States. If we are isolating and treating Ebola cases and doing everything we can to prevent an outbreak, why are certain media outlets trying to make us think otherwise?

Fox News, despite publishing an online article that essentially negates every possible fear a layman might have regarding a U.S. Ebola outbreak, aired a small segment that was clearly intended to scare the audience. The anchor completely glossed over his correspondent’s remark that the Nebraska Medical Center had already successfully treated one patient who has been discharged from the hospital and is in good condition. The online article that Fox published answers such questions as “Can you catch [Ebola] on a bus or plane?” and “What are health officials doing?” The dissemination of proper information in such a stark manner is frankly commendable. But the online audience and television audience consist of different people.

One news outlet preaching different messages is not OK. This hypocritical nature shows the importance of ratings (money) over truth. If other news outlets follow suit, widespread panic could become far more dangerous than the actual disease people are panicking about. Media should always be held responsible for only reporting about the truth, but this is even more crucial in times such as these. Ebola is a very real and very dangerous disease, but the U.S. infrastructure and health care will prevent a domestic outbreak. Our focus should be on the importance of helping those in western Africa, not on the delusions that we will face an outbreak here in the United States.

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