A reflection on Ebola fears in the U.S.

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If one were to flip through news channels or read the newspaper, it is very likely that an article or an opinion piece on the Ebola crisis will appear. A recent Time article written by Josh Sanbum points out that the probability of acquiring Ebola in the U.S. is almost zero. Despite this, parents are pulling children out of middle school in Mississippi, a Pulitzer Prize-winning photojournalist is banned from speaking at Syracuse University after working in Liberia, and an office building has closed in Ohio over fears of an exposed employee. Why is Ebola so acutely feared in a country where only three confirmed Ebola-related deaths have occurred, compared to the 4,400 in Africa? According to University of Oregon psychology professor Paul Slovic, it is all related to risk perception. As the media continues with its front-page headlines about a possible epidemic sweeping the nation, we forget about probability and statistics. There is no question that the Ebola outbreak in West Africa is dangerous and deadly, and requires a coordinated global approach and international efforts. But in the U.S., the flu will kill tens of thousands of people this year and heart disease remains the foremost cause of death. Technology and media allows stigmatization to occur at a rapid pace, and in the midst of counterproductive and unnecessary reactions it is important to educate oneself about the crisis and be grounded by facts.

Michelle Shah is a senior majoring in Cognitive and Brain Sciences.  She is a member of the Communications team.

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