i live only 2 hours from the ebola hospital in dallas heres what im doing to protect my family

When it comes to public health issues, we Americans sometimes only seem to have two modes: “don’t care” and “panic.” (I think the media are to blame for a lot of this.) In the last few weeks, there has been a lot of worry about Ebola because two nurses at Texas Health Presbyterian were infected while treating Thomas Eric Duncan, who had Ebola, and because one of the nurses may have exposed more people when she flew on a commercial flight. The fact that 43 people who had direct contact with Mr. Duncan have now passed the 21-day incubation period for the disease without showing signs of infection, that Senegal has been declared free of Ebola (no new infections have happened there for 42 days), that Nigeria is close to the same milestone, and that the two nurses who treated Mr. Duncan, Amber Vinson and Nina Pham, are doing much better doesn’t seem to make much of a dent in the fear-mongering I’ve seen

With the news that a doctor who works for Doctors Without Borders and just got back from West Africa and lives in New York City has tested positive for Ebola, the “Ebola panic” is only going to get worse.

Since I live so close to Dallas (just two hours away! ), my friends and readers have been asking me a lot if I’m worried about Ebola. So, here are the steps I’m taking to protect the health of my family:

1. I got a flu shot and am telling my friends and family to do the same. The flu is a much bigger threat to our health than Ebola, and the vaccine is a safe and effective way to protect myself and my family.

2. I’m giving money to Doctors Without Borders because the crisis is in West Africa and we need to stop it there. These brave doctors and nurses are fighting Ebola on the front lines, and they need our help. Even though stopping the outbreaks in West Africa is very important, there is almost no charitable response from the public. This is in contrast to the many campaigns that happen after natural disasters. I just saw #tackleEbola on Twitter, and it seems like another good effort to fight the disease. I hope it works.


3. I’m pointing out that false information is being spread to make people scared. One reason we’re so excited about this infectious disease, even though it’s FAR FROM the most dangerous threat to our health, is that the media has made us afraid of it with sensationalist coverage, and we’ve let ourselves be entertained (yes, entertained!) by epidemics. Don’t forget “The Hot Zone.” “Outbreak”? Any zombie movie, ever? It turns out that they aren’t true from a scientific point of view, but they still shape how we think about infectious diseases. We love “outbreak” stories because they are so scary. But this is the real world, and letting our dreams guide our decisions has real-world consequences. Epidemics are not meant to be fun, and in fact, treating them as such makes them worse.

Also, the panic we’ve been feeling has hurt a lot of people for no reason. Schools have closed in Texas and Ohio. A Texas hospital lab worker was on board a cruise ship that was sent back to the U.S. from Belize (the worker was following CDC protocol and 19 days had passed since any possible exposure; she posed no credible danger to her shipmates). Even though health experts say it’s a good idea, most politicians and most people want to stop people from travelling from West Africa. A new policy at a Texas college is to turn down applicants from Nigeria, even though there have been no new cases in that country since September 8.

And stupid conspiracy theories and fake cures are everywhere. In place of that nonsense, I urge you to read about Ebola here and at Doctors Without Borders, where you can find information that is accurate from a scientific point of view. Despite careless rumours to the contrary, Ebola isn’t spread through the air, and it’s not likely to change in a way that makes it spread through the air in the future. If you don’t take care of someone who has it, you’re very unlikely to get it. The truth is that Ebola isn’t nearly as easy to catch as the flu or measles, and you’re much more likely to get sick from the “familiar” infectious diseases.

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