“So far, more Americans have been married to Kim Kardashian than have died from Ebola. And the Ebola victims suffered less.” Funny, eh? I’m sure you’ve heard your fair share of Ebola jokes and puns. Some of you may even have made some good ones yourselves. But how many of us even know what Ebola is?
I was speaking to a fellow student and after making a joke similar to the one above, I asked her if she knew what Ebola was. Her response came out something like this, “It’s, umm, a disease in Africa and some guy died from it.” She wasn’t completely incorrect.
It is a disease and indeed some guy did die from it but it was evident that other than that, she did not know what this illness is. As I discussed the issue with several other students, I realized that, despite the jokes and pop culture references, people don’t actually understand what this disease is and the impact it has had on an entire culture.
The Ebola disease is first and foremost a virus. Its symptoms include fever, fatigue, muscle pain, headache and sore throat. Some of you with the college cold might be freaking out right now because you, like me, are facing those very symptoms. But don’t worry; if you do have Ebola, you’ll know if you start vomiting, get diarrhea, a rash or have impaired kidney and liver function.
And let me clarify this, I don’t mean you threw up because you had a little too much to drink, or you have the runs from the Hans, or impaired kidney function from your bad college decisions. I mean hard core dehydration, vomiting and diarrhea.
However, if you’re still unsure, you’ll really know you have it if you have internal and external bleeding. So if your gums start bleeding, you throw up and there’s blood in it, or you take a dump and there’s blood in it, then maybe you should get things checked out.
Seriously though, this disease is no joke. If you’re more of a visual learner, Google “Ebola,” click “Images” and scroll down a little bit. Scary, right?
With a mortality rate of about 70 percent in West Africa, this illness is definitely something to fear — if we were in West Africa. Many people are currently in a panic about the spread of Ebola here in America. Of the nine patients in the U.S., seven have been treated and survived, one is currently in treatment and only one has died.
For those of you who are worried, do not forget that America, as a developed nation, has more resources than Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone combined. Not only do we have qualified doctors, we have organized procedures and advanced research. Most of the countries facing this disease have been torn by war and corruption and are economically depleted.
They cannot fight this in the same way America can. It is absurd to even compare the spread of Ebola in West Africa and the nine cases we have had here. But for those who are still kind of tense about the topic, here are some facts that should soothe your worries.
According to NPR, if you are an American, you have one in 11 million chance of dying in a plane this year, a one in 9.6 million chance of dying from a lightning strike and a one in 5.2 million chance of dying from a bee sting. All this opposed to the one in 13.3 million chance you have of contracting Ebola.
In West Africa it’s a different story. With much higher risks of acquiring the disease, huge changes have had to be made in within their society. Since the disease is not spread through the air and spreads through direct contact, it is not that contagious.
However, it is highly infectious; meaning that only a very small amount of the virus is needed to transmit the disease. Because of this, it is usually “transmitted by the most basic human acts of community: wiping tears, carrying a child, cleaning up a mess, hugging. And it seeks out the most caring,” Dr. Jennifer Myhre, a missionary in East Africa, wrote Oct. 17.
Think about that for a second. Imagine that you are a parent in West Africa with a sick child. They are feverish, vomiting blood, their diaper is filled with diarrhea, and they’re crying out for you, but you cannot touch them without the huge risk of receiving the disease. You either fight every maternal or paternal instinct in your body or give into it and help your child, and risk acquiring the illness. Many parents have had to make that decision and some have died for it.
It isn’t just close family situations that have been effected by the outbreak, but a whole culture has been shifted. In most African countries, greetings are important. Shaking hands, hugging and kissing are all major parts of culture. Now take all of that away. The community has had to give up the physical touch that we so carelessly enjoy in place of faraway greetings. In lieu of Ebola, people now bump elbows or greet each other with two short claps as to avoid spreading it.
Often we forget to see these kinds of impacts when outbreaks hit, especially when we are so disconnected from it. Can you imagine how different this would be if thousands of deaths were occurring here in the United States?
We would probably dedicate a whole month to Ebola awareness and run races and throw galas for fundraising and whatnot. Jokes would be considered insensitive and looked down upon. Doctors who caught the disease while treating patients would be honored with medals and the best medical care.
Yet somehow, the same thing is happening elsewhere and instead we are able to make jokes and laugh because we are apathetic to the effects of such a horrible disease. In the shadow of their own exaggerated panic, selected people condemn the medical workers who got infected and were brought back for treatment.
We read the news and we see numbers, not people. It is much easier to make fun of a statistic than to laugh about the gruesome disease that killed a 3-year-old girl and then killed her mother simply because she wanted to comfort her daughter.
We say that the world is becoming smaller and we are a global community but it seems that in a time where we are supposedly so connected, we are still so physically and emotionally disconnected from the struggle and strife that others are facing.
Take a moment to consider that the 4,951 people reported dead as of Oct. 29 were someone’s daughter, sister, brother, father, mother, best friend and that so many more than 4,951 people have been left grieving for the family and friends they have lost. Think of people as people and not as just numbers.
Maya Kamami is a freshman communication major. She can be contacted at [email protected]