Original Story: usatoday.com
When contagion breaks out — whether it's AIDS in the 1980s, SARS a decade ago or Ebola today — fear invariably spreads faster than the virus.
Vivid imaginations, intense news media coverage, ignorance and natural human fear of the unknown all conspire to defeat reasoned analysis of the facts, which for now at least are these: Only two cases of Ebola have been diagnosed in the USA, one linked to the other and confined to a tiny part of Dallas. Hardly anyone outside the proximity of those two people has any reason for concern, much less panic, until and unless there are more.
Yet the Ebola script is playing out as if it had been written by the authors of Hollywood hits World War Z and Outbreak, or the recent TV drama The Strain.
In Atlanta, fear of the unknown was so thick in August that one pizza driver wouldn't deliver to Emory Hospital, where American Ebola patients brought back from Africa were fighting for their lives inside a special isolation unit. Couriers initially refused to deliver blood test samples to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention lab a few blocks away. And in Dallas, some residents of the apartment complex where a Liberian man, Thomas Duncan, was visiting family before he died of Ebola were told not to come to work.
Those people, at least, have an excuse. Not so politicians who have been rushing to exploit the crisis for their personal benefit rather than leaning in to help people through it.
The prize so far goes to Louisiana Attorney General Buddy Caldwell, who on Monday got a court order to block the ashes of Duncan's belongings from going to a Louisiana landfill, despite CDC assurances that fire destroys the virus. Caldwell fits a familiar Hollywood stereotype, too: the infuriating character who panics under pressure and endangers everyone else.
Maybe Ebola will be harder to contain here than the nation's leading health officials believe. It's just too early to know for sure. But amid the dreary news Tuesday that the disease is killing 70% of its victims and could produce 10,000 new cases a week by December, there are some striking success stories, even in the African epicenter of the outbreak:
In 2000, Uganda had the worst Ebola outbreak ever until this year. It killed more than 400 people. But that nation has since learned how to contain the disease, and the last three flare-ups have been contained to 18 cases and eight deaths.
Nigeria has managed to stop the spread of Ebola from neighboring countries after a handful of cases turned up there.
And in the middle of hard-hit Liberia, a huge rubber farm reacted so quickly when Ebola struck there that its 80,000 residents are now free of the disease, according to The Wall Street Journal. And that's without the sophisticated medical care available here.
This isn't reason to relax, but it is reason for a calm, deliberate focus on containment — both in Africa, where the U.S. and other nations are belatedly mounting an offensive against the disease, and at home, where the Dallas case has exposed holes in the nation's front-line defenses: emergency rooms and clinics.
The experience so far in Dallas argues for transporting Ebola patients to the four hospitals (in Georgia, Maryland, Nebraska and Montana) specially equipped to handle them. This will work only as long as the number of victims is small, but it could provide breathing room to train hospital staff and ramp up capacity to handle Ebola patients elsewhere.
The needs are more mundane than high-tech: more protective suits, more hands-on training, better protocols for hazardous waste disposal and, with flu season right around the corner, better ways to separate incoming patients.
As for the inclination to panic, the nation would do well to look toward those who have instinctively responded to the crisis with bravery: the medical professionals who have taken mortal risk to fight the contagion in West Africa, the infected nurse in Dallas who risked her life to help Duncan, and leaders such as Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins, who set a remarkable example for the country by publicly visiting Duncan's quarantined family and fiancée and helping to take them to a new home.
When people complained, medical experts said because the family had exhibited no signs of the disease, what Jenkins did was safe. But it was a display of courage and decency, which is exactly the right antidote for an outbreak of fear.