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Facing My Fears About Ebola

Photograph by ASSOCIATED PRESS

I have avoided it like the plague (yes, pun very much intended). Even though the word Ebola has been popping up in my Facebook feed, my Twitter feed and on my TV, I’ve had to consciously hold myself back from clicking on each and every link. The other day I changed the channel from the somber news of the disease to reruns of "C.S.I." — even a graphic show on murder is far more cheery than an update on a very real, mysterious and deadly disease.

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As you may have guessed, the concept of Ebola totally, completely and thoroughly freaks me out. I am trying SO hard to not let my fears get the best of me while pushing away the urge to quarantine my family for the next 10 years. But the fears? They are real. And while I would love to ignore the fact that this is happening, albeit halfway across the globe, we must all be at least a bit mindful of world events.

“The first obligation is informed awareness,” David Quammen wrote in the New York Times. “Early reports arrive from afar, seeming exotic and peripheral, but don’t be fooled. One emergent virus, sooner or later, will be the Next Big One. It may show up first in China, in Congo or Bangladesh, or maybe on the Arabian Peninsula; but it will globalize. Most people on earth nowadays live within 24 hours’ travel time of Saudi Arabia.”

It is indeed scary stuff. Beyond being an arm-chair virologist, waiting for the other shoe to drop, should we REALLY be that worried right now? Not so much. Here are four things I blame my certain elevated fears on:

1. The News Media

When there is a meaty news story, especially one that elicits fear from the reader/viewer, than the news sources will cover the piece past the point of it just being a story until it's a media event. The disease, for now, is centralized in West Africa where it is, “believed to have infected 1,603 people in Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone and Nigeria, killing 887 of them as of Friday,” the World Health Organization reports. Right now only two people in the United States have the disease, having been carefully transported from Africa back home. Both of them are under strict containment and are being cared for at an Atlanta Hospital, getting the care they couldn’t in Liberia where they caught the virus. Yes, only two people in a land of over 300 million.

The idea of losing a child, or the idea of my child losing me from some random virus raises the stakes.

2. Pop Culture

I am not alone in having visions of Gwyneth Paltrow dying in "Contagion" (the Steven Soderbergh drama about a lethal virus that takes over the world) when news of the Ebola breakout hit. Something about the idea of a crazy disease spreading and people suddenly dying just conjures up images of the Goop. Then there is "28 Days Later," "Outbreak" and really, any zombie movie or show; all these narratives tap into that fear of a disease suddenly striking civilization. I have to confess, I haven’t seen a single one of these films all the way through but have seen parts of all. You know why I never sat through any of them through the entirety? Because they, like the thought of Ebola, totally freak me out.

3. History

The 1918 Spanish influenza killed up to 50 million people. The Black Death killed 75 million people. And historians believe the Plague of Justinian (541 to 750 AD) killed a quarter to a half of the world’s population. If history has taught us anything, it’s that pandemic happen and can happen quickly. Now, that’s enough to freak ANYONE out, but consider this, we are so much more advanced in terms of medical care and cures these days. And those diseases hit and hit hard, but this time the world is watching and looking for what could potentially be the next big thing so that it can be nipped in the bud before they take more lives. Let’s hope that Ebola falls into that category.

4. Being a Mom

The hardest part of this whole thing for me is the fact that I am a mom. When I was single and without kids, the idea of a pandemic didn’t fill me with as much fear. But the idea of losing a child, or the idea of my child losing me from some random virus raises the stakes. It makes the “what-ifs” far more significant, hence my urge to quarantine my family for the next 10 or more years.

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But in all seriousness, this whole Ebola thing is scary and the fears are being fed from different places. It’s tragic for the lives of those in Africa that it has touched, and tragic for those who will be next. And while it might be nice to just ignore and pretend it isn’t happening, we should all be aware and educated on the subject. The key is not to let it fill you with too much fear. Only click on the stories you really want to read without falling down a clicky rabbit role. Hug your children and remind them to wash their hands. And go see "Guardians of the Galaxy" instead of watching "Contagion" on DVD. Trust me, a little levity goes a long way.

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