In an interview with the Laura Ingraham Show, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) accused the Obama administration of "underplaying" the threat of Ebola now that it has been identified in Dallas, TX. The senator said the public was not being properly warned of the serious nature of the virus because the White House and health officials maintain that the response should be politically correct.
Because the issue is being “dominated by political correctness, we’re not really making sound, rational, scientific decisions,” Paul said.
He said that he is concerned about the Ebola threat and it is a big mistake to downplay it.
The first case of Ebola not only in the United States, but outside of Africa was identified on Tuesday in Thomas Duncan, who is reported to have caught it from a dying pregnant woman during a trip to Liberia before traveling back to the United States. Because Duncan was not experiencing any symptoms at the time he traveled back to the U.S., he wasn't prevented from getting on the flight.
After experiencing initial symptoms on September 24, Duncan visited an emergency room in Dallas on September 26, but was sent home with some antibiotics even though he informed the nurse that he had traveled to Africa. He did not receive an Ebola screening.
Two days later, his conditioned worsened and he was sent to the same hospital by ambulance and isolated. On September 30, lab tests confirmed he had the Ebola virus.
Cue the media response, which is usually the same no matter if we are talking about bird flu, H1N1, E. coli, salmonella, or Ebola: Be afraid... be very afraid. Not only does every national news personality all of a sudden become a medical expert, they become an expert on the bacteria, infection, disease, or virus being discussed.
Headlines surface on sites like, "Who did he see; who did he touch," "EBOLA GROUND ZERO," "CDC lying!" "SCARE IN HAWAII." (Two of the four headlines were pulled from DrudgeReport.com, one was taken from Fox News, and the other was taken from CNN.com.)People are discussing Ebola like an epidemic has already occurred in the United States and it is a full-blown crisis. Some political commentators are using it to tell people not only why they need to be afraid, but whom they need to blame.
We should have done this; we should have done that. Why didn't the administration do this? The administration should have done this. Why didn't the Secret Service stop Ebola? Sorry, after watching CNN long enough it just all mashes together. Regardless of the story, though, everyone becomes an expert on prevention and containment when they have the perfect vision of hindsight.
Instead of inciting panic among the public, it is important to inform people of what we do know. What is Ebola? How does one catch the virus? What are the odds an individual will catch the virus? Are the identified cases isolated and properly quarantined? How are we better equipped to handle Ebola than countries in West Africa (because we are immensely so)? If people considered this rationally, the answers to these questions should calm some fears.
Most importantly, people who are not an expert on Ebola should (a) not pretend to be an expert on Ebola and (b) not dismiss experts because fear mongering is good for ratings or good for scoring political points.
Ebola is a serious, life-threatening virus. Rand Paul is right that we should not downplay the realities of diseases and viruses like Ebola for the sake of political correctness and we should have a rational, scientific discussion. However, we should not sacrifice a rational response for the sake of capitalizing on other people's fears.
Viruses can be scary. There is so much about the nature of a virus that baffles even the most experienced experts in the field of virology and medicine. There are so many unanswered questions, like why Ebola is deadly to humans, but is not deadly or even harmful to animals like dogs, even though dogs can carry the virus.
Think about the popularity of shows like The Walking Dead -- part of the zombie craze that has topped pop culture trends for a while now. The scariest thing we can think of is a viral epidemic that wipes out most of humanity and then turns them into monsters.
So, it is no wonder that the media and some politicians want to use this fear to their advantage. Our response to Ebola needs to be rational and it needs to be realistic. It should not be sensationalistic.