The opinions stated in this article are solely those of the author and not of The Davis County Clipper.
My stepson spent 10 days in rural Liberia shooting photographs of Ebola victims and survivors for National Geographic. Returning to his home in Washington D.C. two weeks ago, he was asked by his employer to work from home – just as a precaution - for 21 days. He called me Saturday morning. Due to his interview with a Denver media outlet, a Washington D.C. television crew was stationed outside his townhouse.
“If I leave the house, the TV crew wants to film me wherever I visit,” he said. “They say they want a story about what it feels like to be quarantined. It’s crazy. Hundreds of us were in West Africa doing jobs. We all took precautions and none of us have the disease. But I feel like a prisoner in my own home. What should I do?”
He shouldn’t have asked a cynic.
“Here’s my advice,” I said. “Leave the house, have them film you walking into a 7-11 store, then cough throughout the entire building. I’ll immediately start a blog reporting that slurpees have been contaminated along the entire East Coast, then buy the stock market “put” on 7-11 stock falling during the next few days. We’ll make a killing as frantic shareholders sell their stock.”
Okay, Ebola is not funny. For the some 10,000 people - almost all of whom reside in a small impoverished part of a faraway continent – the majority will die. But what is funny (and alarming) is the hysteria growing in this country.
You can count the Ebola patients on U.S. soil on one hand, and yet emergency food storage companies report a huge increase from frightened and frantic Americans purchasing products to battle global contagion.
One company in Draper said demand for some of its newer, unadvertised products is up 2,000 percent. Other companies are reporting three and four-fold increases. Utah talk radio stations are filled with callers claiming that Ebola is a ruse for President Obama to control over-population. Republicans nationally are raising the specter of this new “Black Death” stomping over porous borders.
Sorry, but just because a handful of mostly healthcare workers in the U.S. are being treated for a hard-to-get disease from another continent, I don’t think folks in Sandy or Panquitch need to spend their life savings on a bunker and hunker down against Ebola.
The irony is that many of those worried are exactly the same people who refuse to vaccinate their children from preventable diseases. This year, a large number of Americans, especially children and senior citizens, will also die of influenza because they feared a flu shot.
We’ve seen this hysteria before. Not long ago, talk radio rabble-rousers were advising people not to eat at restaurants or swim in public pools due to the scourge of HIV. (Even Karl Malone was hesitant about playing basketball if an HIV-positive player were on the court.) More recently, I was warned by a co-worker not to board an airplane based on the risk of getting SARS, bird flu, etc.
The bottom line, life is risky. The odds of any Utahn getting killed today while crossing the street is a hundred times higher than he or she contracting Ebola. I asked a medical professional this week to list her most important suggestions for health. Her answer: Don’t smoke. Eat a healthy diet. Take a probiotic for a “good gut.” And get a flu shot.
Then again, hysteria is emotionally more satisfying than wisdom or common sense.