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Fábregas: Hysteria runs with Ebola tag

Move over, red rover.

The latest game to hit the playground at elementary schools is called Ebola.

That much I learned from my 10-year-old daughter, who informed me last week of this creative version of tag. Instead of tagging someone as “It,” players are tagged as having Ebola.

“You have Ebola!” someone screams as kids run away from the “infected” player. No one, of course, wants to be touched by the person who has Ebola.

It’s all fun and games, but … should this even be a game? Do we have an obligation to educate our kids about an epidemic that is destroying families worldwide and decimating the weakened health care systems of several countries in Africa?

“Do you know what Ebola is?” I asked my daughter.

“It’s a sickness.”

“How do you get it?”

“I know it has to get in your body,” she said. “I don’t know.”

“Are you scared about it?”

“No. Not really.”

Good answer — if you’re a child. Grown-up government officials, however, should be more concerned about Ebola. They shouldn’t necessarily be scared about it, but they ought to be more diligent in dealing with a disease that has become a major international debacle.

Though most Americans remain at a very low risk of contracting Ebola, the case of two infected nurses in Dallas suggests that not all hospitals are prepared to contain the virus. The nurses, who treated a Liberian man with Ebola, wore protective gear while doing their jobs but inexplicably became infected. One of them recently admitted to limited training in using the gear.

At one point, Ebola’s arrival in the United States turned into a circus of sorts: The president named an Ebola czar who has remained invisible; a potentially infected nurse rode a bike while being trailed by paparazzi; and yet another health care worker, a doctor, went bowling in a Brooklyn neighborhood. All the while, the public received a barrage of upbeat messages from the country’s top doctors. It’s no wonder Ebola has become a playground game.

It shouldn’t be. The raging outbreak in West Africa has killed more than 5,000 people. The World Health Organization this week warned there could be thousands more fatalities not counted.

Granted, there are dozens of infectious diseases that kill far more and should concern most Americans. For instance, more than 4 million people die every year from respiratory infections like the flu and pneumonia. Should we start putting in quarantine the co-workers who come to the office sneezing and coughing?

The Ebola crisis has been compounded by a lack of clarity on the part of the government and federal health authorities. We’ve somehow embraced hysteria yet failed to understand the implications of what’s happening in West Africa. The United Nations has asked for $1 billion to fight Ebola, yet it has collected only $100,000.

The crisis has taught us many lessons: that our health care workers need better training, that our government needs to think before it reassures, and that pharmaceutical companies need to step up their work on drugs and vaccines.

Sure, the kids on the playgrounds are safe. But if we don’t apply those lessons, it really won’t matter. The seeds of doubt will continue to grow.

Luis Fábregas is Trib Total Media’s medical editor. He can be reached at 412-320-7998 or [email protected].


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