Ebola myths, misinformation, and fear-mongering

With the constant barrage of information surrounding Ebola from the American news media, the CDC, Facebook, Twitter, and the internet in general, it can be hard to sort out what is truth and what is just designed to create panic. Even Jon Stewart and the New Yorker have provided us some satire on the ridiculousness of the current media response to Ebola. There are plenty of myths and misinformation going around in the US and misinformation is spreading in West Africa as well. This type of fear-mongering eventually starts some folks thinking they have Ebola when they have never been exposed (the “worried well” as they’re called). So I thought I would write a quick post addressing a few common myths and nuggets of misinformation I’ve found around the interwebs that are causing people here in the US to panic about being at risk of catching Ebola.

1. Ebola is airborne, that’s why it’s spreading so fast and why so many people are dying in West Africa OR If it’s not already, Ebola will mutate to be airborne. 

To me this is just nonsense. Although Ebola is not something that we’ve seen in the US until the last few weeks, this is not a disease that has just surfaced on the face of the planet, in fact it’s been around for almost 40 years. We know how it’s spread, by contact with bodily fluids of those infected and getting that fluid into your mucus membranes (eyes, nose, mouth, etc.). Saying that Ebola is airborne means that it would be spreading like the common cold or influenza, and we just aren’t seeing numbers to support that. But the numbers of those infected and dying are so high so how could that be if it isn’t airborne you say? It remains that, here in the US as well as in West Africa, those who are getting infected with Ebola are those who are in direct contact with infected persons, so healthcare workers, family members caring for the sick/dead, and so on. If this were airborne anyone walking around these areas of infected people would be getting infected even without touching a sick person, and that’s not happening (as evidenced by the numerous American journalists covering the story in West Africa but not getting sick).

While this current outbreak strain of Ebola has been shown to have mutated since the beginning of the epidemic, thinking that it can/will mutate into an airborne form while continuing to maintain it’s current virulence is quite far fetched. This is like saying the common cold, cause by a respiratory virus that infects your respiratory tract, will suddenly decide to infect your digestive tract causing vomiting and diarrhea. Now I’m no medical expert, but I bet you’d be hard pressed to find any reference of a respiratory virus, like one causing the common cold, drastically changing it’s entire way of existence and surviving to the same level.

2. You can catch Ebola from people who look healthy and aren’t showing any symptoms.

Ebola has an incubation period of 21 days at the longest, which is why you keep hearing about people being quarantined for 21 days, but most show symptoms around 8-14 days post infection. People with Ebola are not infectious and are not at risk of passing it on to other people unless they are showing symptoms. So you don’t need to worry about someone on your airplane looking healthy but giving you Ebola.

3. Ebola causes people to bleed out of all their bodily orifices. 

Bleeding out of every hole in your body is how most people would characterize Ebola. However, much to the dismay of the media which likes to sensationalize everything, this is just not the case for most people who are infected. The early symptoms of Ebola look like other illnesses that cause fevers, such as influenza or malaria, which is what can make an early diagnosis so tricky. In places like West Africa that are lacking in sufficient health systems and structures, you can’t quarantine everyone who comes in with a fever. Some people do bleed from their eyes, nose, mouth, ears, etc. but the volume of blood is not enough to kill them (organ systems shutting down is what does it) and if they do end up bleeding it’s during the advanced stages of the disease.

4. Travel bans work, why aren’t we implementing them?

To most people this seems like a good idea that makes sense, stop people who have the disease from bringing it into countries without the disease. The director of the CDC, Dr. Tom Frieden, has gone on record saying he doesn’t support the use of a travel ban. Basically, it’s impossible to secure the borders of a county (as evidenced by the continuing issue the US has with securing it’s southern border) and blocking air travel just means people will find alternative routes to get where they want to go. And then we won’t have any way to track them. Furthermore, many of the flights going into and out of Guinea, Sierra Leone, and Liberia are carrying on them aid workers and supplies to fight the epidemic. If you don’t believe me and are pretty sure that air travel bans would stop this outbreak in it’s tracks, I suggest you take a look at this article from Forbes.


I hope at the very least that this post has caused some people to chill out a little bit in response to Ebola. If all else fails, you can basically buy anything on the internet nowadays so if you’re that anxiety ridden about Ebola, just get an Amazon Prime membership and wait it out.

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