Had I said to you a month ago that your flight was quarantined because of an Ebola scare, you would have laughed out loud (unless, of course, you’re from Western Africa). But today, that’s the reality. We’re seeing a level of paranoia that is completely unwarranted, and I’m afraid it’s only going to get worse. So, how about we dispel some of these myths? I’ve put together some incredibly useful tips to help.
Yes, there are a couple of cases of Ebola in the US, but in its current state, it’s just really hard to catch the disease. That hasn’t prevented people from freaking out, of course. We can thank the media for that panic with a frenzied level of coverage. On Friday, Delta had a flight quarantined in Vegas. It was United’s turn on Sunday in LA. And you know we’re just going to see more of these.
I’m not a doctor, but I can read. And I know that the Center for Disease Control and the World Health Organization both have websites. That’s enough to qualify me as being able to understand the basics of how this thing works. (You can too unless, of course, you’re a conspiracy theorist who doesn’t believe anything. In that case, enjoy your underground bunker.)
One of the problems with Ebola is that the symptoms start out just like a flu. So as we move into flu season, half the US is going to decide it has contracted Ebola. Airline planners – you might want to start padding your schedules to account for the inevitable quarantines on every other flight. This is not going to work out well unless people take a deep breath and get educated.
Ebola is one nasty disease, and this outbreak seems to kill about half those who get infected (that’s not too bad as far as Ebola outbreaks go). But as nasty as the disease is, it’s not easy to transmit. Unlike the flu, Ebola requires direct contact for transmission. Just sitting on an airplane isn’t going to get you infected in normal circumstances. To make sure you don’t do anything stupid, here are some handy tips.
- Do not have sex with anyone on an airplane (especially if your partner is feverish and dying). Oh what the heck, don’t make out with strangers either since, unlike with HIV, Ebola can be transmitted through saliva.
- If you see someone sweating, and this is important, do NOT drink the sweat. Also, don’t rub the sweat into any open cuts on your body. Just touching it to your finger won’t transmit it (unless you’re an idiot and then put your finger in your mouth), but it can get you through open cuts.
- If someone appears to be exhibiting flu-like symptoms, ask them this question. “Say, do you happen to have been to Liberia, Guinea, or Sierra Leone in the last 21 days?” If they say no, then follow up with this. “Are you a healthcare worker who helps treat Ebola patients?” If not, then you’re in the clear.
- If your fellow passenger sneezes, it’s probably best if you don’t try to catch the discharge with your mouth or anything you plan on putting in your mouth. If you do get sneezed on, I’m going to suggest doing something crazy. Wash your hands. (But first, feel free to yell at the jerk for not covering his nose and mouth.)
- If someone doesn’t look sick but is running up and down the aisles saying they have Ebola, you should just punch them in the face. (Or, you know, maybe just wait for someone else to arrest them.) If they do not have symptoms, they can’t transmit the disease.
The important thing to remember is that it’s not transmitted by air, water, or casual contact. When the disease mutates to allow for that, Dustin Hoffman will be there to save the world (or just a picturesque Northern California town). But until that point, your chances of contracting this disease in the US are incredibly tiny.
Many have compared this to HIV as a possible global pandemic, but there is one incredibly important difference between HIV and Ebola. HIV can take years to incubate. People may not have any symptoms but they can spread it for a really long time. Ebola, on the other hand, incubates quickly. Someone who gets it will show symptoms within 21 days from the time of infection. And only when those symptoms show themselves does the person become infectious.
Oh sure, it’s probably just a matter of time until another nasty Spanish flu-style pandemic sweeps the world, but it seems highly unlikely that this particular disease will be it… at least in its current form.