I declare. It’s no wonder folks fret so much about Ebola. In the last couple of hours I’ve seen three or four magazine and newspaper articles with variations of this deeply stupid headline:
Ebola ‘could become airborne’: United Nations warns of ‘nightmare scenario’ as virus spreads to the US
Anthony Banbury, chief of the UN’s Ebola mission, says there is a chance the deadly virus could mutate to become infectious through the air
I’m not including any links to those articles (I’ll explain why in a bit). Here’s the quote from which the headline above was taken:
The longer it moves around in human hosts in the virulent melting pot that is West Africa, the more chances increase that it could mutate. It is a nightmare scenario [that it could become airborne], and unlikely, but it can’t be ruled out.
Sure. There’s also a chance we could resurrect a T-Rex from DNA extracted from a mosquito trapped in amber 66 million years ago. Unlikely, but it can’t be ruled out. I could be bitten by a radioactive spider and develop superhuman strength, perfect balance and a spider-sense that would alert me to great danger. Adam Sandler could win an Oscar in the Best Actor category. Unlikely, to be sure — but it can’t be completely ruled out.
Here’s a true thing: there have been exactly the same number of viruses that have mutated from transmission through contact (like Ebola) into airborne respiratory viruses as there have been T-Rexs cloned from DNA obtained from amber-trapped mosquito guts.
In the entire history of epidemiology, it’s never happened. Not once. Ever. And there are a LOT of viruses that can be transmitted through contact with bodily fluids. HIV, for example, or Hepatitis B. Have those viruses mutated? Sure. Have any of them suddenly become airborne? Nope. Will Ebola become airborne? Nope.
Will we see more headlines like this? Absolutely, because scary headlines draw readers and readers draw advertisers and advertising keeps newspapers and magazines alive. It may make them sick, but it keeps them from dying.
And you know what? That’s exactly what an effective virus does. It infects a host, replicates itself, and finds a way to infect other hosts in order to perpetuate itself. But an effective virus does NOT kill the host; it just keeps it sick. A dead host is of no use to a virus; a sick host allows it to continue to replicate and spread itself, infecting as many new hosts as possible.
If you’ve read any of the articles I mentioned at the beginning, you could have been infected with advert-borne stupidity. That’s why I didn’t include links. Think of the absence of links as a form of prophylaxis — a measure to prevent infection, as opposed to treatment after being infected. But happily, there IS treatment available if you happen to become infected. The treatment isn’t always easy, but it’s widely available.
All you have to do is learn some facts. Facts won’t make you immune to advert-borne stupidity, but it’ll decrease the odds of infection and any long-term effects.
Oh, and wash your hands too. Can’t hurt. And avoid contact with Adam Sandler.