Thursday, October 9, 2014

The Multiplying Dead

Zombies are in. Or so I’m told. They’re not just for Halloween anymore either. Hollywood has perpetrated a fascination with the dead and un-dead with TV shows like The Walking Dead, Supernatural and Game of Thrones. There are plenty of movies too. It’s a genre that isn’t a favorite of mine, though I will admit to enjoying TNT’s The Last Ship this summer which was less about zombies and more about a disease killing people mysteriously with one ship of people left to save the world. The Michael Bay series set a dark scenario where an unknown illness killed people indiscriminately. Almost on a parallel timeline news from Africa emerged about the current Ebola outbreak. It seems that fiction is stranger than truth.

Thousands of people in West Africa have died from Ebola. Sierra Leone had 121 deaths in one day. The disease is no longer confined cases and deaths are now reported in several countries, including the United States.

In August (2014) an American missionary was airlifted to a hospital in Texas. Local television news, the Internet, and the community went into full scale panic. The supervisor for the Texas hospital “repeatedly downplayed the risk” as a way to calm the community, according to CNN.  He died this week.

Fox News may be stoking paranoia on its airwaves, but its website has bypassed the hyperbole to provide the facts:
Ebola doesn't spread easily like the flu, a cold or measles. The virus isn't airborne. Instead, it's in a sick person's bodily fluids, such as blood, vomit, urine, semen or saliva. Another person can catch the disease by getting those germs into his own body, perhaps by wiping his eyes or through a cut in the skin.
Bodily fluids aren't contagious until the infected person begins to feel sick. The initial symptoms are easily confused with other illnesses, however: fever, headaches, flu-like body aches and abdominal pain. Vomiting, diarrhea and sometimes bleeding follow as the disease progresses, increasing the risk to others.
In West Africa, the disease has spread quickly to family members who tended the sick or handled their bodies after death, and infected doctors and nurses working under punishing conditions, without proper equipment. Bed sheets or clothing contaminated by bodily fluids also spread the disease.

Americans are still wound up and worried. Is this because of the disconnect between breathless television coverage and facts? Or are people just stupid? People are reacting emotionally and skeptically. In late July and early August this year the U.S. Government sought to downplay the African outbreak by categorically stating that there was no way a case could get into the U.S. Less than a month later there are multiple cases in the news (the CDC has investigated hundreds of cases that hospitals have reported). The President sent 3,000 troops to the region, committed $750 million to the cause and is making speeches about how the world must step-up and play its part in this outbreak.

Officials can’t have it both ways. They can’t try to pacify the public with statements that there is little to no risk and then launch a war (with ‘boots on the ground’ no less). Then weeks later patients start dying – when medical and political officials said that was unlikely to happen in the U.S. because of its advanced medical facilities. No wonder the public’s ability to trust and believe its elected officials is at epidemic lows.

Jack Nicholson’s character in A Few Good Men famously said “You can’t handle the truth.” With Ebola, that seems quite a fitting description of where American’s are feeling. Without knowing the real impact of this disease, however, the dead are multiplying and the panic is reasonable. Alien as it may be for this Administration, better to say “We don’t know yet” rather than more obfuscation and in short order reveals itself as uninformed or lies.

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