Ebola: Not Panicking Is Personal And Political


People need to calm down!

Last week my 21 year old nephew had come for a visit and was listening to me rant at social media about “queer ebola panic.” He looked up from whatever electronic device he had been interacting with,  scratched his head and said “Is there really a special queer panic Aunt Kelli?”

I thought for a minute and responded, “No, probably not, but I expect more from queers.”

He said “uh huh” and went back to his electronic device.

Pointed questions from smart millennials aside, I do expect more from queers because we’ve been down this road before. There was a time when we were the folks with the disease no one understood and everyone was afraid of us. And yet, queers are following the straight people straight into the panic fields of Central Silliness.

Some important things to remember:

1. You probably don’t have Ebola because you went bowling.

No case of transmission from a dry surface to a human has ever been confirmed. A 2007 CDC study that investigated the swiped surfaces of an active Ebola ward didn’t find a single case in which the virus was present, even on items such a stethoscope and a bed frame.

In order for you to get Ebola from a bowling ball, someone who had active Ebola (meaning, they would have had an onset of symptoms) would have to put (or one presumes..leave) their body fluids on the bowling ball and you would have to make contact with it while the fluids were still, well, fluid.

Although Ebola can be found in many body fluids of an infected person, according to the World Health Organization the most infectious fluids are blood, feces and vomit. If you see blood, feces and and/or vomit on a bowling ball and still pick it up, then there are clearly bigger issues at hand.

Or as my nephew interjected “You can go bowling, just don’t do it in vat of feces” To which my friend Stacy said “So much for FecesBowl 2014”

Queers are such smart alecks.

2. You probably don’t have Ebola because you rode the subway

Ebola is not passed like the flu, measles or chickenpox, ie the airborne route.  Just sitting next to someone on public transit won’t do it, you would have to make direct contact with their most infectious body fluids. How might this happen? Even the New York Times get sarcastic at this point: “if someone ejected bloody mucus or vomitus on a subway pole and the next passenger were to touch it while it was still wet and then, for some unimaginable reason, were to put those wet fingers into an eye or mouth instead of wiping them in disgust, then yes, [Ebola could be passed on the subway].”

3. You probably don’t have Ebola just because health care workers have contracted it.

This is where the logic train really gets derailed.

“If trained healthcare workers get it” yells the internet, “how can we protect ourselves.”

This misses the entire point. Trained healthcare workers are getting it not IN SPITE OF being healthcare workers, but BECAUSE they are healthcare workers. They are being exposed to large amounts of the most infectious body fluids when the patients are at their sickest.

Can you imagine the circumstances in which someone who is as sick as Ebola patients get, decides to drag themselves out of bed, break out of the healthcare facility where they are being treated and touch you with their body fluids?

Yup. Me neither. Probably not even if the person was your most reviled ex.

4. Panicking hurts the people who can least afford to be hurt

It’s not that there is zero chance that a non healthcare-related person living in the US or Canada could contract Ebola under some of these extremely unlikely scenarios, but rather that the chance is unbelievably small. A recent NPR piece projected the statistical likelihood at 1 in over 13 million.

But the kind of reactions we’re seeing; the demonizing of the health care providers who had the audacity to volunteer in Ebola affected areas, the call to burn down the bowling alley where a doctor who later became symptomatic for Ebola went, etc, all can potentially lead to devastating consequences. In 1989 when I was living in Port au Prince Haiti I watched as many families in my neighborhood suffered as their taxi driving relatives in the US lost jobs because of AIDS fear. Without the supplemental income from their family members, families had less access to food and medical care.  Current Ebola panic reactions might have the impact of decreasing volunteers for Doctors without Borders, fan flames of xenophobia against people travelling or immigrating from hard-hit areas in West Africa, and divert resources from areas most hard hit by the disease.

So yes, worry a bit it you’d like, wash your hands more, and even quit bowling since you were probably already embarrassed wearing those shoes anyway.

But let’s be upright responsible queers and not let our privileged panic extend beyond that.