Sefiso Hlongwane
Sefiso Hlongwane

Relax, you’re not going to die of Ebola

Quite a number of things are killing South Africans at the moment. High salt diets. Farm attacks. Tuberculosis. Cardiovascular diseases. Giant rats on the loose in Alexandra. Viagra-induced heart attacks. Oscar …

The list is endless.

What’s not really a threat to most people, however, is Ebola. Take this from a self-confessed germaphobe like myself who uses more hand-sanitiser than necessary and hasn’t touched raw chicken in years.

But I’m not even a little worried about getting Ebola because I’d have to go out of my way to get it (and I’d probably still fail). Fancy my courage? Well, let’s consider a few reasoned points.

Welcome to my Ebola masterclass
Before I continue, you’ll need to remove your Bane-style air mask and lay down the Ebola hammer. Got it? Good.

Now, have you or your family members recently had direct contact with the bodily fluids (primarily blood) of a person sick with Ebola?

No? I figured.

Have you recently eaten wild meat or touched diseased bats (sick weirdo!)?

Is that another no?

Lastly, have you washed the body of a deceased Ebola victim?

I’ll take that as a no.

So, guess what? You’re OK! You have no business stressing about Ebola.

Media: Punching up the fear factor to sell copies
Coined as “the black swan of the apocalypse”, the Ebola panic has spiralled out of control. The media often goes crazy about exciting ways to die, even when there is only a minuscule risk.

Scanning the news right now (and social media) you’d be forgiven for thinking that the trending virus is a major cause of death (alongside Isis, which isn’t a geometry problem, by the way). The shock-and-awe value makes for television waves as huge and terrifying as tsunamis but as infrequent as … well … tsunamis … only way slower. So for the sake of pageviews and selling copies, the media has sandblasted us with fear and it’s time to clamber over each other like a crowd in a house party that someone yelled “FIRE!” in before actually lighting it on fire.



HIV and Ebola transmission: Potato, Potata
Look, I’m no medical professional, so I could be comparing apples and oranges here but some of the excessive fear about Ebola is similar to the hysteria over Aids, which led otherwise reasonable people to drive homosexuals from their midst.

Eventually, the citizenry came to realise that we weren’t all going to die of Aids and that the only way to get HIV (and eventually Aids) was by sharing bodily fluids.

So what I gather is, medical non-pro that I am, the way one becomes infected with Aids or Ebola are pretty much of a muchness.

Unlike the common cold or viruses that cause food poisoning, Ebola does not spread through casual contact. It also isn’t airborne because there’s no case of someone getting Ebola as a result of an infected person coughing on him/her. So what I’m saying is, if Ebola, measles, flu and TB went toe-to-toe to see which spread the fastest, guess which one wouldn’t end up on the podium.

If Ebola spread that easily, there would be 3 million cases as opposed to 3 439 cases in West Africa that the World Health Organisation reported since the Generations cast got fired.

Panic is dangerous…worse than the disease
Soon after Donald Trump suggested that the US must “institute strong travel restrictions or Ebola will be all over the United States”, I figured the panic over the virus seems like a more dangerous disease than the disease itself.

Yes, it has a fatality rate when contacted. It’s extremely dangerous. Very serious and must be contained. But heck, grounding flights and leaving people to die en masse isn’t the solution, I’m afraid.

Besides, I don’t think it keeps most epidemiologists up at night.

It could theoretically become pandemic — that is, an out-of-control global epidemic — but experts say it’s unlikely.

The real solution? A modern healthcare system
Turns out the disease has already swept into West African areas that had been largely spared the onslaught and are not the least prepared for it.

Ebola patients in Bombali, a district in Sierra Leone, are dying under trees at holding centres or in reeking hospital wards surrounded by pools of infectious waste, and cared for by lightly trained and minimally protected nurses.

So there you have it. Extreme poverty, a broken public health system and the trauma of countries newly emerged from years of brutal warfare are just some of the cracks that Ebola has crept into in order to ravage West Africa.

Unlike Nigeria, where Ebola seems to be over, partly due to the fact that the considerably developed country was prepared for a possible outbreak of the highly severe contagion and as a result, took quick action to limit its spread.

Which proves that with a team of private healthcare professionals, a flexible budget to support preparedness and response activities as well as trained officials at points of entry, Ebola could really be a walk in the park.

Yes, even for West African countries, only if the world can hand over their piggy banks, build field hospitals, set up treatment centres and laboratories and send scores of trained medical personnel.

But for you and I? What we should really be worried about is not catching TB, which kills tens of thousands of South Africans every year and not to scare you or anything but the World Health Organisation also confirmed that SA has one of the world’s worst TB epidemics.

Or you can just relax, enjoy the summer, have a drink ’cause if you’re able to read this, you’re not dying of Ebola.

Image – A man dressed in a protective suit and mask holds a poster demanding for a halt of all flights from West Africa, as he protests outside the White House in Washington, DC on October 16, 2014. (AFP)

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    • pongoland

      It’s not the media that is getting hysterical over Ebola. The people most concerned are Medecins sans Frontieres, the World Health Organisation and the CDC in the US.

      It’s easy to be a smart alec, but the ease with which this disease reached the US and Europe is reason for concern.

      Ebola may well die out before it becomes a global pandemic, but there is not reason for complacency.

      We may very well be wiped out by one plague or the other. Bacterial resistance is a growing threat.

    • Carol Coombe

      Oh please. You are clearly not au fait with basic health procedures, and should not be commenting on them. You do not mention, in your opening list of dire deaths, the HIV/Aids virus which has killed umpty million South Africans, and continues to affect about 15% of us. It has torn apart our economy, our labour force, our health, education and social welfare systems, our communities and traditions – although no one ever mentions this in today’s South Africa. HIV is no more no less virulent than malaria or extremely/totally drug resistant TB.

      But in a country where, it has been reported this week (Oxfam and SA), 52% of the population is in starvation mode, and where ARVs challenging HIV only work with a good diet, we will continue to die this death.

      None of us knows the parameters of how we may be affected by a mutating Ebola virus; infections have occurred where they are not meant to occur; hundreds of health workers have died in West Africa. And Uganda and DRC are reporting mortality rates of up to 90% because of the Marburg virus (go Google), of the same family as Ebola.

      All of us know that African borders are porous, that closing a border is impossible. So what happens in SA which is already flooded by immigrants seeking a life – but possibly bringing death. No, Ebola is not in 3 West African countries: I am 100% sure it is loitering in villages throughout the region, and in SA itself. Do we have quarantine units ready?

      I fought HIV, but cannot fight Ebola…

    • grant

      I think the world might relax a bit more if medical professionals suited up in sealed suits working in negative pressure environments were not contracting it and dying. Have you considered that Ebola is perhaps a little more contagious than is being advised to prevent panic? Maybe it is, maybe it isn’t but when a virus that liquefies you insides into bloody mush gets going I suspect the old notion of ‘plan for the worst, hope for the best’ would be a good way to go.

      On the HIV thing, a distinct lack of hysteria and deep suspicion of the medical establishment is half the reason so many millions got it. While I don’t advocate panic at all, I think a casual approach could be equally silly especially when a huge proportion of your population have severely compromised immune systems which is why we have such a serious TB epidemic.

    • Candice

      Thank you for this post!! I’m a proud germaphobe too and I agree with EVERY WORD in this post! I don’t even understand why people are panicking when they have been no where near an infected person/country or handled their fluids or remains. I don’t even think those men and women in the safety suites (though some healthcare workers are also reported to have contracted) worry as much as you sitting at home! I do feel for those who have fallen victim (and their families), but please people. lets not rile each other up unnecessarily.

    • orwell

      Good article.

      FEAR is a big driver of US-UK media reports pertaining to geo-politics.

      If the population is terrified of some boogeyman or another: Bin Laden/ISIS/AlQaeda/Saddam – or some boogeyvirus: Bird Flu/Swine Flu/Anthrax/ Ebola – they are more likely to shut up and fall in behind war rationale, domestic surveillance and/or the loss of civil liberties.

      Meanwhile, Professor Francis Boyle smells a rat … Read this article on the source of the Ebola virus here:

      It seems preposterous, but think back to 2001.

      It was proven that the Anthrax deaths in USA in September/Ocotober 2001 – said to be the work of “Al Qaeda” – turned out to be linked to the Fort Detrick Military Bio-Lab. In other words, despite media hype and lies, the strain of anthrax was the Ames- strain and its provenance was American, as revealed by award-winning journalist Glenn Greenwald and other investigative reporters at the New York Times and The Guardian.

      Indeed, Professor Graeme MacQueen has just published an eye-opening, scholarly book entitled “The Anthrax Deception: A Case for Domestic Conspiracy” (Clarity Press).

    • mia

      Whilst I disagree with the flippancy that this article has on the ebola virus, I do agree that at the moment im most likely to have a head on collision than actually contract ebola.