Ebola: Neither threat, nor joke

August Wade
Staff Columnist

As much as I’d like to say I’m grateful for VCU’s email alert assuring the VCU community that the administration and health system are well-prepared for an Ebola outbreak, I didn’t care. If I had the wherewithal, I could craft a list of events and diseases that are more relevant to my health and well-being than Ebola, but not because I don’t believe Ebola is dangerous.

Certainly, with more than 4,500 people dead and hundreds more affected, Ebola is dangerous. It’s a fascinating and terrifying virus that incubates from two to 21 days, targets the body’s immune system and has a death rate as high as 90 percent. But let’s be honest: If you’re reading these words, you probably won’t get Ebola.

Ebola is transmitted through close contact with the bodily fluids of someone sick with the virus. It’s not airborne, it’s not transmitted through water or insects. As an American, there are dozens of other events, disease and accidents that are more likely to kill you, most of them domestic in nature. Even on the continent of Africa and in the West African region, before the current outbreak, Ebola wasn’t an extraordinary leading cause of death.

Make no mistake, VCU, the CDC and other state agencies throughout the nation should be mindful of person’s entering the country from Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, but there’s no chance of an Ebola breakout occurring in the United States. We have a (admittedly poorly managed, overly expensive, profit-centered) health care infrastructure and the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, which carefully monitors the country’s medical health. Along with the in-place infrastructure system that Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone are (to a degree) lacking, the U.S., has mountains of medical equipment and numerous pharmaceutical companies that will roll out a treatment and vaccines if, on a poorly-thought out dare, Americans started importing animals with Ebola and consuming them.

Illustration by Chris Kindred

Certainly, be concerned about Ebola, but don’t be concerned with a US outbreak of Ebola; be concerned about the 4,500 people in various West African countries that have died from Ebola and are continuing to die because they don’t have the resources to manage an outbreak or educate people on how to avoid catching Ebola.

In that same vein, stop making Ebola jokes. Upwards of 4,500 people are dead, with more infected. Not everything needs to be turned into a joke and if the point of jokes are to alleviate the pain, only those affected by the pain should be telling them. People are dying and people are risking their lives and there’s nothing humorous about that.

What is a joke is the banality of American empathy being funneled almost exclusively to Americans, while simultaneously asserting that America “is a cultural melting pot” and a “world leader.” What is a joke is how Americans freak out about Ebola, but not the over 10,000 people that have died as a result of gun violence (not counting suicides) in 2014 alone or our demonstrative complacency in the face of inevitable climate change.

The headline-level fear we’ve shown toward Ebola and people returning to America that were infected (and subsequently treated for) Ebola has been borderline xenophobic, which is sadly par for the course in the United States. It’s great that VCU’s ready to treat one of our own, but what are we currently doing for the affected populations in Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea? With the plethora of resources available, why aren’t we using this outbreak as an opportunity to raise funds for treatment and research on Ebola or distribute information on infectious diseases, the same way we do with cancer or ALS? Because there’s no bracelet that sexualizes the infection for you to wear or a bucket of ice to dump over your head?

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