Editorial: Ebola and other disease epidemics increase paranoia among people

(Courtesy/Fatima Kazmi)

(Courtesy/Fatima Kazmi)

A cough at the airport, a sneeze at work, and suddenly somebody has the Ebola virus.

The Ebola virus disease is found in the tropical regions of sub-Saharan Africa, carried by fruit bats. Initial symptoms like fever and sore throat can appear anytime within three weeks after the virus is contracted. Infected persons suffer vomiting, decreased liver and kidney function and both internal and external hemorrhaging. More than 3,400 people have died from the recent Ebola epidemic in West Africa.

Other nations were quick to take preventive measures, particularly after the U.S. saw its first case.

Thomas E. Duncan travelled from Monrovia, Liberia, to Dallas, Texas, on Sept. 20. Four days later, he developed symptoms and tested positive for Ebola. A few days earlier, Duncan came in contact with an Ebola patient in Liberia, who died shortly after. Duncan is currently being treated at a Texas hospital in isolation and is in critical condition.

Ebola spreads through direct contact with the blood or bodily fluids of an infected person or animal. That means you need to have either touched an Ebola patient (primary contact) or a person who touched an Ebola patient (secondary contact). But many North Americans are fearful of catching the disease. This kind of paranoia is aggravated every time a viewer sees a flashing headline on the news, or when they self-diagnose after surfing the Internet.

Films like Steven Soderbergh’s Contagion perpetuate the fear. The movie is about a virus that spreads quickly and kills a significant amount of the population. While it’s important to stay informed, over-worrying is mentally tiring.

One of the key reasons for the Ebola outbreak in West Africa was the lack of proper medical care for patients. Canadian hospitals and health officials are equipped to handle patients and provide timely care. Health Minister Rona Ambrose announced on the weekend that a second Canadian mobile laboratory and medical team was going to Sierra Leone to battle the virus.

This isn’t the first time Canadians were at risk. During the SARS pandemic, people wore surgical masks and limited contact with anyone that appeared to be of Asian descent. According to the World Health Organization between February 2003 (the first probable case) to June 2003, Canada saw 251 SARS cases. Of those infected, 43 died.

In early 2009, the H1N1 virus, commonly known as swine flu, reached Canada. A Public Health Ontario report stated that between April 2009 and January 2010, Ontario had 128 deaths due to the virus. As a preventive measure, people lined up to get vaccinated, which resulted in shortage of vaccines.

Winter is slowly rolling in as the cold winds pick up. Most Canadians have suffered from the regular flu at least once in their lives, and anticipate catching it again. Get your flu shots, wear warm clothing, acknowledge any developing symptoms and remember to wash your hands. Rest assured, epidemics are survivable.

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