Bioethics Blogs

Ebola Fever: “Don’t Panic”

by Craig Klugman, Ph.D.

In The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, author Douglas Adams provided his protagonist with two pieces of advise: don’t panic and always carry a towel. The first is good advice when it comes to Ebola panic.

I was sitting down on the plane in San Diego airport after the American Society for Bioethics & Humanities meeting when I noticed a woman walking down the aisle with a face mask. Being a public health-oriented person, I figured she had tuberculosis and was under order to wear a mask to protect other people’s health. But then a man came aboard with a mask and soon thereafter there was an entire family. I thought there couldn’t be that many people boarding this flight with infectious diseases and then it hit me—they weren’t protecting us, they were hoping to protect themselves from Ebola.

The rub, of course, is that Ebola is not airborne and thus, cannot be transmitted through the air. The masks would do nothing except maybe ward off a cold or flu. Perhaps that fact was known by one passenger at Dulles airport outside Washington DC who showed up for a flight wearing a homemade hazmat suit.

Given all that, I suppose I should not have been surprised when I received a call from my dentist today. Yesterday I had been there for a regular cleaning. Above every chair, this office has a television and as it was 5pm, the TV was set to the news. We began talking about an Ebola story and I mentioned that I had given several interviews with the media about Ebola lately.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.