The news, rumors and publicity over Ebola have taken the United States by storm over the past few months. While the number of cases remains fairly small, it has appeared in the news more than any other illness or disaster to date.
In the U.S., the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has recorded that 26.6 million adults have been diagnosed with heart disease, 1.1 million are living with HIV and only eight have been diagnosed with Ebola, with one death. As of 2011, the CDC reported that 1,580 people die a day from some form of cancer in the U.S. Again, we have had one death so far from Ebola.
The questionable hype surrounding this disease is primarily due to the lack of knowledge and personal connection to the illness. Many know of someone who has died from cancer, HIV or heart disease; however, few people can say they know someone who has died from Ebola.
As with other worldly disasters, many in the media choose to highlight this news over others for ratings, which is sad because there are more apparent illnesses killing more people in the U.S. than Ebola.
That is not to say that Ebola should be downplayed, but the focus on the virus should be limited instead of so widespread. If we had as much media coverage on other illnesses, then we would be able to use that attention for good to save more lives than merely reinforcing the hype surrounding Ebola alone.
The lack of knowledge is in part due to the media attention surrounding the social aspects of those who died, when and where, instead of what the disease is and how it is spread.
Ebola is spread through direct contact with bodily fluids. After symptoms develop, the virus is contagious on the skin, and it can survive for a few hours on dry surfaces and for days in wet environments. Despite the hype surrounding this “epidemic,” unless you are choosing to stand in a room with someone who has Ebola, you are safe. The chances of catching Ebola are nearly zero while 3,000 people die every year from food poisoning and 88,000 people die every year because of alcohol use. Essentially, you are more likely to die from another illness, drinking too much or just general bad luck than you are from Ebola.
The reason Ebola is receiving so much coverage, compared to freak accidents or other less serious but more prevalent illnesses, is because media choose to cover the material that is going to shock Americans and catch their attention. It is due to the fact that aside from a few months ago, most people had not even heard of Ebola, and the minute it becomes relevant, it takes over our lives.
This occurs with every crisis: We become obsessed with it for a couple of months and then no one remembers it ever existed again. The U.S. has become Ebola-obsessed. This, too, will pass. Sadly, when the Ebola crisis passes, our focus will not go toward those illnesses that seriously need it.