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.

AFP

AFP

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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