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Thursday, December 2, 2021

Myths and Misconceptions about Health: Ebola Epidemic or Hysteria?

I wouldn’t doubt that over the last several months you’ve come across the word ebola through multiple means of communication and social media. It may have been the news, Facebook, Twitter, Youtube, Instagram, you name it. However, the integrity of what was being posted or written about might have been compromised. It is incredibly easy to post short headlines that draw people in, but these might mislead readers from the truth. People are not likely to read any further or question what they are reading if it comes from reputable sources. A vast amount of misconceptions about the ebola virus have formed as a result of this sort of media. There are a lot of myths about how ebola is spread, what its symptoms are and the potential risk factors it poses.

Discourse on ebola symptoms is perceived like a game of cooties: someone or some population is infected and then everyone frantically steers away. Tons of people think that merely close contact with an infected person will give them the disease. The social media posts, which tend to falsely inform people that ebola can be spread through air, water or food are no help to this misinterpretation. Realistically, there are only a few ways to get ebola. You can get it from touching the blood or bodily fluids of a person who is sick with or has died from ebola. Touching contaminated objects such as needles or infected fruit bats or primates can also give you ebola. You won’t get it from a cough or from breathing the same air as an infected person. Simply having the disease doesn’t make you contagious and because it isn’t airborne it’s definitely not as easily spread. You’d have to be showing symptoms to spread the virus.

Contracting the virus is not an automatic death sentence. The current death rate is high, at around 50 percent, but there are many individuals who have been successfully treated. Most of these deaths are attributed to the lack of containment measures. Without active community engagement, it is difficult to prevent the spread of the disease. Raising awareness of risk factors and protective measures is vital for reducing transmission. Health workers must also take precaution when working with infected or potentially infected patients.

Ebola is an epidemic that affects many countries in West Africa; however, it is commonly misunderstood to pose a high risk to people in the U.S. The worry over ebola is more of a hysteria than an epidemic. If ebola were to come to the U.S. (and it has), no epidemic would occur. With relatively high and easy access to treatment and care, people in the U.S. do not have nearly as much to worry about as the people of West Africa where resources, money and health care access are scarce. The ebola epidemic is considerably more complex than just a simple biological virus. Political, economic and other environmental factors are just as threatening as the virus itself.

Tiffany Marquez can be reached at tmmarquez@ucdavis.edu.

Graphic by Tiffany Choi.

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