Ebola: Choosing Wisdom Over Worry

October 28, 2014 1:51 PM

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Ebola: Choosing Wisdom Over Worry

Epidemics arouse tremendous fear and elicit a host of common responses, despite very different contexts. This fall, Americans have grappled with the news that Ebola is on American soil: One person has died from it, two others are recovering from it, a physician in New York City now appears to have contracted it while caring for patients in West Africa, governors in some states are quarantining providers traveling from affected countries, and many Americans presently live in fear that they have been exposed to it. The news has caused many Americans to panic at the news, and they are demanding that government and public health officials do everything to keep Ebola away from the U.S. and to keep them safe in this epidemic.

The symptoms of epidemic diseases can often be grim, prompting alarm in the public imagination and compelling authorities to respond in extreme ways. Take yellow fever or cholera, diseases that ravaged North America at various times in our past. In roughly 15 percent of yellow fever cases, individua...

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