On October 8, 2014

Do you already have Ebola?

By Brett Yates

OK, deep breaths—don’t panic. I can say with at least 70 percent certainty that you show no signs of having Ebola.

Still, it’s important to be wary of the deadly virus that is currently sweeping West Africa—and perhaps soon the universe. Sure, the disease is survivable and containable within any nation with strong medical resources, not very easily transmissible and not truly a threat to the Western world, and yes, only one person (as of this writing) has been diagnosed with Ebola in the United States. Even so, it’s always good to have a new thing to worry about, especially considering that excessive worrying is proven to be one of the most effective ways of combating Ebola.

Here are three easy ways to avoid contracting the Ebola virus:

1. Don’t come into contact with the bodily fluids of anyone suffering from Ebola.

2. Read lots of articles about Ebola.

3. Be suspicious of anyone who has traveled to a foreign country in the past decade.

One of the great things about Ebola—for hypochondriacs, I mean—is that virtually all of its early symptoms (which include fever, headache, nausea, and muscle pain) are issues that pretty much all normal, healthy people have to deal with once in a while. Did you notice that your hands seemed a little clammy as you heard reports of the shocking errors committed at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital, where, due to a staff miscommunication, the Liberian virus-carrier Thomas Eric Duncan was initially sent home with simple antibiotics, putting as many as 100 other people at risk of contracting Ebola in Dallas, Texas—a mere 1,700 miles from your home? Did you feel a touch of nausea as you read that sick West Africans were fooling airport security simply by taking enough ibuprofen to get through the not-nearly-rigorous-enough fever screenings before boarding planes to the United States?

Do you think it’s the leftover meatloaf from last month that you had for lunch even though it looked slightly greenish that’s bothering your stomach, or could it be Ebola?

I’m kidding: you do not have Ebola. More than 7,000 West Africans do, however, and by now more than 3,500 have likely died from the outbreak, and therefore I guess it’s my opinion that any journalism devoted not to the effort to contain Ebola in Africa but to stoking Americans’ fears for their own safety and urging public officials to close our borders to Ebola-stricken nations is either paranoid or cynical or both—and, more than anything else, an insult to human empathy.

In the New Yorker, Atul Gawande notes that a travel ban “would only drive an increase in the number of cases at the source. Health-care workers who have fallen ill would not be able to get out for treatment, and the international health personnel needed to quell the outbreak would no longer be able to go in. The local economy and health infrastructure would further collapse, causing a far wider spread of the disease.” Does this matter less than making a sure-to-be-futile effort to guarantee that Ebola never again touches American shores?

Remember: Ebola is not about you, because you do not have Ebola, and will not have Ebola. It’s about the people who are dying from Ebola. This epidemic does not exist for the purpose of titillating healthy Americans—nor did swine flu or monkey pox or any of the other exotic-disease fads of the 2000s, for that matter.

Let’s all be thankful for our health without guarding it too jealously—but don’t forget to pick up a flu shot as we get closer to winter, since influenza is still an actual thing in the United States. Good luck out there—there is plenty of other stuff to be scared about, if you’d like.

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