Ebola: This Is How We Always React

Christopher Fowler
140807-ebola-spain-7a_467e254a065a484d2c28f83b36a56d08 It's a criterion of growing older, that we start to think these are the end of times. For my grandparents, the war removed innocence and decency. For my parents the Cold War and the arrival of nuclear power heralded Armageddon. For us the loss of identity, the rise of fundamentalism, climate change and roller-coaster economics isn't enough - to these we must add fear of a pandemic. But how much of this is manufactured by the press? Of course Ebola is a horrific disease that the West has been too slow to respond to. The virus was first noted as early as 1975, spread by bats. But many governments only fully awoke to its risks after three Texas patients and a cruise ship were quarantined, as if over 4,000 deaths in west Africa were of no significance. Now President Obama has called for an end to hysteria, which has seen some survivalists (an extremist mentality that seems to affect specific parts of the US) barricade themselves in bunkers with guns and years of tinned food, as if they've been binge-watching 'The Walking Dead'. At the start of the latest outbreak, I had a blood test in the London hospital where a nurse who had contracted ebola was being treated. Nobody seemed remotely concerned; the hospital has a high reputation for handling infections, and as the New York Times pointed out, the disease is entirely manageable if hospitals react with diligence. However, less reputable press sources are already spreading panic with articles about virus mutation. The Guardian has lately taken to running ebola stories with the same frequency that the Daily Express ran articles on Madeleine McCann. Is this the best that human nature can ever offer? When something terrible happens we fall apart, squabble and finally vow it must never happen again, as if Dr Kubler-Ross's five stages of dying must be followed en masse? Perhaps it is the disease that plays best into the fears of our times, a perfect storm of a news item in an age that has become defined, in the words of Adam Curtis, by the power of nightmares.


Vivienne (not verified) Sun, 19/10/2014 - 23:21

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

I see that William Pooley Is back in Africa to help with the outbreak. I don't know if his previous infection renders him absolutely immune now, but his behaviour has been admirable: reasoned and compassionate. Much the rest of us could learn.

Christopher Fowler Mon, 20/10/2014 - 09:45

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

He's not sure if he's immune but it hasn't stopped him from returning. I hope the Bunker people feel ashamed.

Helen Martin (not verified) Tue, 21/10/2014 - 21:06

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

The Canadian Broadcasting Corp is dedicating today to providing information about the disease, answering questions, and trying to calm down hysteria. Their tv & radio programmes, on-line and satellite services are all focusing on it. It shouldn't be necessary. I heard Mr. Obama saying that he had met with a recovering patient in the oval office - but his wording implied the man was recovering in the oval office. There are many terrible diseases which are difficult to contract, but fatal if you make the one mistake that exposes you. "Let's be careful out there, people."