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Fear And Anxiety Are Bigger Threats Than Ebola

Memo Pad Politics

Fear And Anxiety Are Bigger Threats Than Ebola

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During the summer, I got hooked on a TNT drama called The Last Ship, an apocalyptic thriller about a global pandemic that wipes out most of the human population. As it happens, the telltale signs of this killer plague bear a striking resemblance to the symptoms of the Ebola virus.

Indeed, Hollywood has been inspired by Ebola for decades, almost since the virus was first identified in 1976. But in those fictional crises, including that portrayed in the 1995 film Outbreak, starring Dustin Hoffman, the virus has changed — either through mutation or human intervention — to become airborne, like smallpox and tuberculosis. If you are a screenwriter, you need that element of quick and easy contamination to sustain edge-of-your-seat suspense.

Characters in The Last Ship, for example, enter unfamiliar territory fully clad in protective gear for fear of suddenly sharing space with an infected person. They dare not breathe the same air if they expect to survive.

Real-world Ebola, however, isn’t that easy to catch, according to experts at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It has caused a devastating pandemic in West Africa, where the medical infrastructure is poor to non-existent, but it won’t come close to that here, they say.

Still, judging from the news media, lots of my professional colleagues have seen Last Ship and Outbreak. They’re in full panic mode, hyping the threat and speculating about the possibility of a global pandemic that swamps the Western world as it has West Africa. That hysteria has only increased since Thomas Eric Duncan died last week in a Dallas hospital, becoming the first Ebola fatality in the United States.

As Dr. William Schaffner, a professor of preventive medicine at Vanderbilt University, told The New York Times, “… at the moment, we have a much larger outbreak of anxiety than we have of Ebola.”

That’s partly due to the madness of partisan politics, where critics of President Obama look for any reason, rational or not, to blast him. Fox Not-News has had a steady stream of commentators blaming the president for Ebola patients in the United States, as if he’s the mad scientist of a Hollywood thriller.

But the 24-hour news cycle also demands hysteria, whether from liberal commentators or conservatives. Fear is one of the most powerful of human emotions, and it drives eyeballs to the TV screen and clicks online. If there is no genuine crisis, a manufactured one will have to do.

It’s also true, psychologists point out, that human beings have difficulty assessing risks. Many Americans, they note, have a fear of flying and would rather drive a long distance because they believe it’s less dangerous to do so. But numbers show that commercial aviation is much safer than doing battle with your fellow road warriors.

In 2012, the last year for which statistics were available, 33,561 people died in motor vehicles in the United States. The number killed in commercial airline accidents that same year? Zero.

If humans better understood risk, we’d focus more on the refusal of some Americans to have their children vaccinated against highly contagious childhood diseases. There is little risk from inoculations, but a grave risk in allowing an illness such as measles or whooping cough to get out of control.

Meanwhile, Ebola is indeed wreaking havoc. Just ask Sama King, a naturalized U.S. citizen who was born in Sierra Leone, one of the countries that have been hardest hit. After 30 years in her adopted country, much of that in Atlanta, she was thinking of returning to the place of her birth. But she has had to put that off to become an activist and fundraiser instead.

“We are grateful for what the international community has done, but it needs to do more. If (international agencies) had intervened earlier, we wouldn’t be where we are now,” she said.

King has worked to increase awareness of the pandemic and to raise money for food and protective gear. She is now focusing on the many orphans left behind in Sierra Leone, children who have nowhere to go, whose relatives may be afraid to keep them because of the stigma associated with Ebola.

Now that’s a genuine crisis.

Cynthia Tucker won the Pulitzer Prize for commentary in 2007. She can be reached at cynthia@cynthiatucker.com.

Photo: A patient transported from Frisco, Texas, with concerns of possible exposure to Ebola, arrives at the emergency room entrance of Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital in Dallas on Wednesday, Oct. 8, 2014. (Louis DeLuca/Dallas Morning News/MCT)

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Cynthia Tucker Haynes

Cynthia Tucker Haynes, a veteran newspaper journalist and Pulitzer Prize winner, is a Visiting Professor of Journalism and Charlayne Hunter-Gault Distinguished Writer-in-Residence at the University of Georgia. She is also a highly-regarded commentator on TV and radio news shows.

Haynes was editorial page editor of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution newspaper for 17 years, where she led the development of opinion policy. More recently, she was that newspaper’s Washington-based political columnist. She maintains a syndicated column through Universal Press Syndicate, which is published in dozens of newspapers around the country. Besides winning the Pulitzer Prize for commentary in 2007, Haynes has also received numerous other awards, including Journalist of the Year from the National Association of Black Journalists.

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28 Comments

  1. Dominick Vila October 11, 2014

    The first thing to remember is that the only guarantee in life is our mortality. Needless to say, most of us are determined to prolong the inevitable as much as possible, but that does not mean we should spend our time on this plane in a state of panic.
    The Ebola virus is dangerous, it is reason for concern, and the sudden awareness after the indifference it elicited in previous outbreaks is welcome since it may translate to greater focus and help to eradicate this threat, but paranoia is not going to help. What is needed is to make it clear that we all expect our government to seek international consensus and help to do whatever is necessary to find a cure for this terrible illness, and find ways to limit the probability of it spreading worldwide.

    Reply
    1. MichelleRose3 October 11, 2014

      At last, a reasonable mind. Thank you for your well-considered and literate comments. I only wish there were more like you.

      1. Dominick Vila October 12, 2014

        Thank you!

  2. bobwms October 11, 2014

    What’s worse that Ebola? My vote goes to “Democrats”.

    Reply
    1. Dominick Vila October 11, 2014

      The character and values of politicians can be determined by observing their post presidential acts, when they have nothing to lose. Former President George H. W. Bush celebrated his parachuting from an airplane; former President Carter celebrated his 90th birthday helping build a Habitat for Humanity house in the Dallas-Ft. Worth area.

    2. Grannysmovin October 11, 2014

      GOP political plan for this country: “Keep everyone in fear or the other negative emotions which makes them submissive, blocks thinking, intuition, and the truth.” http://www.whale.to/w/mind.html

      1. bobwms October 12, 2014

        What’s moving besides your bowels, Granny? We all know that we have nothing to fear because we have ObamaCare.

        1. Grannysmovin October 12, 2014

          Charming – apparently you know what I said was true because when you have no legitimate argument you resort to nonsense and failed attempts at insults.

          1. bobwms October 12, 2014

            That’s a trick I learned from the Democrats. As Obama says “When the facts aren’t on your side – cry ‘Racism!'”

          2. Grannysmovin October 12, 2014

            Take your meds and call your shrink in the morning.

          3. bobwms October 12, 2014

            Sorry, but I can’t take my meds. I’m on ObamaCare and it won’t pay for them.

          4. Grannysmovin October 12, 2014

            No surprise there – predictable response. Have you forgotten the link to support what you claimed Obama said? Reference to your comment above.

    3. MichelleRose3 October 11, 2014

      Fortunately, your vote doesn’t count.

      1. bobwms October 12, 2014

        I know that, because the Obama Machine throws my votes out! Why do you think that they don’t want Voter ID?

    4. Dominick Vila October 12, 2014

      Now that one of the caregivers that interviewed Mr. Duncan at the Presbyterian Hospital in Dallas when he first checked in…and was sent home with some antibiotics and pain killers, is showing symptoms of Ebola, I expect many Republicans rushing to the nearest hospital every time they show signs of Montezuma’s revenge or a slight fever. If a pandemic of one in the USA caused the GOP to freak out, I can only imagine what is going to happen now that the number has doubled!

      1. bobwms October 12, 2014

        Fortunately, we now all have ObamaCare, so we can get first-class medical care and maybe even live forever. (OK, OK – there are those pesky “Death Panels”, but if you can avoid them, you might survive.)

  3. howa4x October 11, 2014

    Ebola is part of the family of viruses known hemorrhagic fevers and has been in rural Africa for centuries. It is spread by contact with the waste of individuals infected. The rapid spread in Africa is mainly due to the rural population leaving areas due to deforestation, crop failure and war, and moving into cities with no sanitation, so contact with infected waste is easier than here. So the danger here is manufactured for financial and political gain. Of course the CDC that has had it’s funding cut might make it a little more dangerous than it actually is. but the director has constantly minimized the risk here but warned of dire risks in Africa. We have to stop it there since in a globalized world it can travel anywhere. So lighten up about Ebola and lets talk about cancer that kills over 500,000 people here per yr. So what is the bigger risk?

    Reply
  4. Whatmeworry October 11, 2014

    The CDC and Oama

    Reply
    1. MichelleRose3 October 11, 2014

      If you are going to load your commentary with more fear-mongering nonsense, then hit the bricks and go to Faux News, where they will welcome your nasty comments and racism with open arms. Otherwise, I urge you to take your vicious statements, fold them until they are all sharp corners and then insert them where they will do you a world of good.

      “Fellow africans.” You racist swine, it’s people like you who have caused so much grief and bloodshed in this country. Go fondle your guns and stay out of adult conversations

      1. Whatmeworry October 11, 2014

        Are you trying to contend that he’s not African and a mooslim??? He’s never denied that he’s colored, a socialist and a believer

        1. MichelleRose3 October 11, 2014

          He’s not a Muslim. (Misspelling the word does not make you clever, it only makes you illiterate). Nor is he a socialist. You obviously believe that throwing clearly false accusations makes you 1) Terribly clever and innovative (No. You borrowed those false claims from other conservative bloggers) and 2) a champion and hero of “real Americans” because, as you see it, our President is not an American and therefore you can say whatever enters your pointed little head.

          Trolls bore me. YOU bore me. You are, quite frankly, full of nonsense and I have no further interest in you. Please feel free to have the last word because I’m not going to waste my time responding to your nonsense.

          1. Whatmeworry October 22, 2014

            Hmmm who said that the most beautiful song you’ll ever hear is the mooslim call to prayer??
            Who has been a car carrying socialist since the 1990’s.
            But as usual your a lib and reading isn’t something your comfortable with

          2. Whatmeworry is Dan M Ketter October 23, 2014

            dannyboy here fought against socialism as a desk clerk during his 2-year stint in the air national guard. give ’em the respect he deserves

          3. Whatmeworry is Dan M Ketter October 23, 2014

            dannymaxketter misspells because he is ignorant and fat

    2. Whatmeworry October 2, 2015

      Jeese, linda rae is 1 ugly stick, and so is floozy kristy. Hilliary Clinton is a 10-plus compared to these two ugly ketter hags

    3. Daniel Max Ketter October 12, 2015

      Linda Rae and Kristy Ketter are the biggest whorezs in Williamsburg. They both gave birth to black babies

  5. hannamontana80 October 12, 2014

    It’s important to remember that Obamacare is designed to deny health care to older, mostly conservative people.

    Reply
  6. Marie Kalivas Devine October 12, 2014

    Dr. DC
    Jarvis showed a cure for viruses in his best selling paperback in 1960
    called: Arthritis and Folk
    Medicine. He gave studies, examples and
    simply adding acid to the diet healed animals and people of viruses. Viruses cannot live in an acid
    environment. He used apple cider vinegar
    with or without honey (both are acids)
    For people, just a couple of teaspoons of apple cider vinegar in water
    with or in addition to meals quickly ended the afflictions, drink with means or
    between. IF adding same amount of honey,
    stir honey and acv together before adding water. Apple cider vinegar is excellent for
    bleeding issues and bruising, also rub vinegar on skin sores, bruises,
    etc.,also recommended if going for surgery, or before child-bearing. Details at divine-way.com

    Reply

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