Americans are living under a dire threat that could quickly escalate into a national emergency. No, not Ebola or the Islamic State but the hugely overhyped fear of them. The public resembles one of those cartoon elephants perched on a chair in trembling terror of a mouse.
Ebola has killed one person in the United States, which is one more than the Islamic State has killed. But Americans spooked by horrific tales and ominous images are responding as though mass death looms before us.
A Washington Post poll found that 43 percent of Americans are “very worried” or “somewhat worried” that they or their immediate family members will contract Ebola. In a CNN poll, 45 percent described the Islamic State as a “very serious” threat. Humorist Andy Borowitz says CNN’s new slogan is “Holy Crap, We’re All Gonna Die.”
From the panic, you might forget that Ebola is actually hard to get because it requires physical contact with the bodily fluids of someone who is not only infected but symptomatic. It’s not a new pathogen, and the methods required to contain it are well-known — though not always easy to implement in poor countries.
The infection of two Dallas nurses who treated Thomas Eric Duncan, who died of Ebola, indicates it can spread even when serious precautions are taken. That is worrisome news if you work in a hospital. But it doesn’t magnify the microscopic risk to the rest of us.