By Jonny Lupsha, Wondrium Staff Writer
The United States will screen inbound travelers from Uganda for the Ebola virus. An outbreak in the East African country caused the Biden administration to make the decision. Still, Ebola concerns in this country should be taken with a grain of salt.
The Biden administration said on October 6 that travelers entering the United States from Uganda would be screened for the Ebola virus to minimize the risk of the outbreak spreading. As of press time, no Ebola cases have been reported outside Uganda, but officials cited the measure as an added precaution. Most likely, this step is being taken in light of the fact that Ebola has an average 50% fatality rate, according to the Pan American Health Organization.
However, at the same time, the current risk level of an Ebola outbreak in the United States is very low and not a reason to panic. If the public did find itself overly worried about Ebola, it wouldn’t be the first time fears of the virus have gotten out of hand. In his video series The Skeptic’s Guide to Health, Medicine, and the Media, Dr. Roy Benaroch, Adjunct Assistant Professor of Pediatrics at the Emory University School of Medicine, recalls what led to the big Ebola scare in 2014.
Deadly? Yes, But …
In October 2014, CNN ran an article about the Ebola outbreak that was devastating West Africa. Unfortunately, it included wild speculation about how devastating Ebola would be if it were an airborne disease. Ebola has never been an airborne disease, yet the headline reads “Ebola Airborne: A Nightmare That Could Happen” and cites a health expert who ramps up the fear.
“Digging around, I could find no other ‘top infectious disease expert’ that was concerned about Ebola becoming transmissible through the air,” Dr. Benaroch said. “Nothing like that has ever happened before, and there’s no reason to think there’s any way it could happen now.”
The Ebola virus is no laughing matter. The 2014-2016 outbreak eventually killed over 11,000 people in West Africa. But endless speculation and hypothetical worst-case scenarios didn’t help matters. Dr. Benaroch even pointed out that a very different story ran on the website IFLScience with the headline “Study Confirms That Ebola Is Not Transmitted through the Air”—and it was published two months prior to the CNN piece.
Always Read the Article, Never Read the Comments
“Ebola is, in fact, difficult to catch; your mucous membranes or broken skin must touch a victim’s body fluids directly,” Dr. Benaroch said. “And people do not become infectious until they’re ill, and usually not until they’re very, very ill. We’re talking hospitalized or worse.”
So, how did the Ebola fear spread? In the age of social media, it’s become increasingly apparent that often people only read the headline of an article before making up their minds, or, even worse, sharing it with their contacts.
“But headlines are written not typically by the journalists who write the articles, but by editors—editors who want a punchy headline that fits a space and will attract readers,” Dr. Benaroch said. “Those headlines don’t necessarily tell an honest story, and sometimes misrepresent the very article they’re introducing.”
The worst practice of digesting and sharing information online is to read the headline and skip the article. Perhaps a close second is getting involved in the comments sections of articles, which are almost always rife with misinformation and vitriol. Getting information from a trusted source and reading the full article can save web users a lot of headaches.
The Skeptic’s Guide to Health, Medicine, and the Media is now available to stream on Wondrium.