Here are some very basic facts about Ebola hemorrhagic fever that you need to know:
- It was first identified in 1976 in Sub-Saharan Africa.
- Symptoms include an initial flu like stage followed by vomiting and sometimes rashes. After this patients will start to haemorrhage, often vomiting blood as well as suffering from internal bleeding and blood loss from the nose and gums. The ability of blood to clot will be impaired.
- There is no known cure, although a wide variety of treatments usually based around rehydration are used. Mortality rate in those infected is usually between 50 and 90%.
- Transmission between humans occurs through direct contact with the bodily fluids of an infected individual.
In short, Ebola is a horrible, usually fatal disease that periodically ravages an area of the world where public health infrastructure is not equipped to deal with outbreaks of such a visceral disease. Outbreaks such as the one currently sweeping through Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone.
There is another thing about Ebola that, given its coverage in the British media, you might be forgiven for not knowing. You are not going to catch it. Unless you are reading this from a laptop in a West African Hospital, perhaps because you are one of the extraordinarily selfless international aid workers or local doctors trying to contain the outbreak, you are not going catch Ebola any time soon.
If you read the Daily Mirror on Monday though, you might think otherwise. The paper’s front page splash, replicated below, told of ‘Ebola terror’ after a passenger died at Gatwick after flying from Sierra Leone. Unfortunately the paper went to print on Sunday night just before it emerged that the 72 year old woman had not been infected with the disease. Presumably the paper had no time for a correction in print and there was, as a result, much choking on cereal and coughing up of tea across the nation on Monday morning.
Of course, if one just went by this kind of coverage them we’d all be stocking up on canned goods and waiting for the global pandemic. The truth is that Ebola poses little risk to those of us fortunate enough to like in a country with a sophisticated public health services, thousands of miles away from the equatorial African nations where the disease is currently most virulent. That hasn’t stopped plenty of people trying to get you scared though. The Daily Mail reported that Ebola could be used ‘by terrorists to create a dirty bomb‘ before going on to cover the unfortunate death at Gatwick in a similar manner to the Mirror, ignoring the expert they had consulted on the previous story who had rightly poured cold water on the idea that an infected air passenger could lead to an outbreak in Britain. On the other side of the Atlantic Donald Trump, the eccentric, wind farm hating billionaire declared that those who volunteered to go and help tackle the outbreak at its source must ‘face the consequences’. This was a response to the news that two American aid workers had been infected and were to be flown back to the US for treatment.
The issue really being talked about is, however, not the dangers of an Ebola pandemic. If it was then a simple reporting of the medical facts of the disease would have calmed nerves and headlines alike. Instead, when we are warned about a deadly tropic disease we’re actually being told to mistrust those who might carry it. Immigrants and tourists from west Africa or those poor, innocent volunteers who have been corrupted by their time away from the safety of the West. They are the real target of the stories about deaths on the runway and the parlous state of the UK’s only Ebola isolation unit. Equally the only thing you’re likely to catch is a strong dose of xenophobia. Ill informed tales about third world countries are usually nothing more than a way of making readers feel threatened by the outside world. So, if you start to believe every story about a coming epidemic, you should stop, take a deep breath and remember that you’re not going to catch Ebola next time you nip to the shops, immigrants are not coming to steal all our jobs and make us all sick and that you shouldn’t trust everything you read in the morning papers.