ebola

Oct. 17th, 2014 04:47 pm
mellowtigger: (the more you know)
[personal profile] mellowtigger
Don't panic! There, I said it. The only thing that surprised me about this ebola kerfuffle is that it started in Dallas instead of someplace like Minneapolis.

Ebola is a virus named after the Ebola River, near where the virus was first identified in Africa. The greatest number of known infections is currently found in Liberia. The United States has several regions of numerous Liberian immigrants, such as Rhode Island, New York, and Minnesota (and most of those Minnesotans are in the north metro where I live)... but Texas is not among them. So it's curious that Thomas Eric Duncan arrived in Texas on a plane flight from
Liberia, bringing the virus to Dallas on September 20th. It's bucking the statistical odds, but Texas is where he happened to have family.

Ebola is not spread easily. It's even less contagious than HIV when we measure its contagion mathematically. You must have direct contact with bodily fluids. It happens, however, that ebola causes a person to produce copious quantities of bodily fluids. Infected patients endure projectile vomiting and intense diarrhea. Ebola was originally named a hemorrhagic fever because some patients also developed bleeding, but only about 10% show this symptom. It has been renamed because now we know that it is the intense dehydration that leads to organ failure and death.

So what do you do? It's simple; don't panic.
  • this particular outbreak in contextRemember, HIV is more communicable than Ebola. I dated an HIV+ man for 1.5 years without ever contracting HIV myself. You're not in a tizzy about AIDS killing everyone in your neighborhood next month. Find your calm.

  • Remember, you must have direct contact with bodily fluids. Only the nurses who cleaned up after Thomas Duncan have become ill, and we know that they lacked proper protective gear and habits. The man himself was apparently infected after helping to carry an infected neighbor from home to hospital (where they were turned away due to overcrowding) and back to home again. The Dallas man was vomiting at home but none of his family or neighbors are ill after the hazmat team cleaned the vomit, and they are nearing the end of their 21-day incubation period. Find your calm.

  • Remember, ebola is not airborne like the flu. People in direct contact with bodily fluids contaminated by ebola should exercise great caution, but simply being near an infected person is not a risk factor. "Clipboard man" was not in contact with the patient or within range of a sudden projectile vomit, so he had no reason to fear infection. Ebola is not like the flu; it is not airborne, and little of the virus is found in saliva. Find your calm.
This outbreak had the great misfortune of happening during "Stupid Season" here in the United States, which is the time before a national election in November. So reactions on both sides have been politicized for potential gain.

I think there is actually a strong political component to be found, but I'm much more interested in trying to observe that effect impartially. In the realm of politics, we're learning a lot about the social psychology of our political outlook. One of the more interesting discoveries is that conservatives experience "disgust" more intensely than liberals. Revulsion itself is an innate response. We're genetically programmed to experience it, and humans are typically revolted by things like bodily fluids, wounds, rot, maggots, and sick people. It's fascinating that some people experience it more intensely than others, and it's even more fascinating that these people with similar reactions gather into similar political groups. Ebola wraps up nicely the revulsion experience into a single package. It also includes foreigners, another point in which conservatives experience greater discomfort.

I doubt that anyone had intended to portray the prejudices of their political life, but this scenario has really brought to light some great examples nevertheless. Both sides are behaving stereotypically.

Conservatives react with revulsion (remember that intense inner experience) by proposing ideas like:

Liberals react slightly less emotionally (remember that weaker inner disgust) by doing things like:

  • calling for more action at the source of the outbreak (on foreign soil),
  • appointing a figurehead to bypass regulatory constraints and act quickly,
  • mocking past efforts to oppose universal health care, and
  • even hugging and kissing nurses when necessary to remind the public of routine daily life when you're not in the throes of an emotional panic response.

If you must indulge your paranoia, then I suggest purchasing simple paper surgical masks to cover your nose and mouth. It will remind you against touching your face, so you'll wash germs from your hands before introducing them to your body. Just follow simple cold/flu protocol in general, and we'll all be happier and healthier for it.

If you overcome the pre-programmed urge to run away from your revulsion, then you might even find the motivation to head towards the source of your fear and help others.

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