I’ve been a germaphobe for as long as I can remember. I obsessively clean my living space and perpetually use hand sanitizer. When it comes to the flu or a cold, I’m always deathly afraid that I’ll be the next victim of their wrath, especially on campus. It’s safe to say that I’m generally the first one to freak out about infectious diseases. But even I have realized the ridiculousness of the Ebola scare in the United States and I am thoroughly disgusted by Americans’ lack of research and lack of care about other nations that are in much more danger in relation to this epidemic. As I’ve watched and read the news recently, I’ve noticed dozens of stories on the two nurses that fell ill with Ebola in Texas. While I sympathize with all of the people around the world who have become victims of Ebola and pray for their health and safety, I am disturbed by America’s disproportionate response to Ebola and lack of care for Africa, a place where the disease actually poses a significant threat. Where was the public’s attention to Ebola when it was killing thousands upon thousands of people in Africa?

First, to dispel rumors, Ebola can only be transmitted through direct contact with the bodily fluids of an infected person who is showing symptoms. That means broken skin or mucous membranes must touch the vomit, semen, blood, urine, sweat, feces, breast milk or saliva of someone who is sick. People are also only contagious when they’re exhibiting symptoms. The common cold or flu is transmitted much more easily through the air, which is why these illnesses spread like wildfire through schools and offices. In Africa, the transmission of Ebola has posed issues because many West African people don’t trust the health workers who are trying to prevent them from performing their usual rituals, such as when a family member dies. For example, in Guinea, when someone dies, the family expresses love for the dead person by hugging them, touching them and dressing them in new clothes. Health and aid workers have been trying to prevent Africans from performing rituals like this in an effort to stop the epidemic. This leads to fear, anger and mistrust among the native peoples. According to anthropologist Almudena Mari Saez in Africa studying this, there is a big mistrust in human relationships resulting from this dynamic.

In America we have a very different process for people who exhibit symptoms of Ebola. As you have probably seen on the news, people are effectively quarantined immediately during their contagious period. Our hospital infrastructure is advanced and sterile. Following the incident in which a nurse who was caring for a patient with Ebola in Texas fell ill, President Barack Obama motioned that the CDC to now send a rapid response team as soon as someone is diagnosed with Ebola so it can train local hospitals with a step-by-step protocol which includes the use and disposal of protective equipment. Furthermore, the White House has been continuously stressing that Ebola cannot be spread through the air, water, food or through casual contact with someone who has no symptoms. As always, it’s important to wash your hands in public spaces, but there is no reason whatsoever to stop going to public places, to pull kids out of school or to stop using public transportation. These are absurd overreactions.

In Washington, D.C., the alarm has reached comical proportions. On Friday, a woman threw up in the Pentagon parking lot at about 9 a.m. causing a day-long scare that forced a quarantine of military members and a closing of part of the Pentagon parking lot. Apparently the woman reported after she threw up that she had recently been to West Africa, which later turned out to be false. The fact that this incident both closed down part of the Pentagon and made national news is disturbing. In Africa, aid workers are still trying to quell a devastating epidemic that has killed thousands with the fear of still another 10,000 people per week getting sick in the next couple of months.

In America we’ve had fewer than 10 people ill with Ebola, but news agencies have blown the scare out of proportion. We didn’t start to think about or care about Ebola, as an American public, until we found out someone in America may be ill with the disease. This kind of gross ethnocentrism proves why foreigners always think of America as self-centered. Of course it is necessary to keep ourselves safe and clean by using common sense and regular hand-washing procedures, but it is important to remember the facts when watching bizarre news stories on TV highlighting the danger of Ebola in America; it simply doesn’t pose the same kind of threat here as it does in Africa. Our hospital infrastructure, rituals and protective measures are much stronger than those that exist in Africa. Sending resources and money to Africa to help them combat this terrible disease would be a much better use of our effort.

Maura Levine can be reached at mtoval@umich.edu.

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