Beware of media-induced panic of the plague as the next big pandemic
Every few years, the media stirs up fear of another pandemic to coincide with a new vaccine and fairly totalitarian measures from hospitals and governments. In 2009 the hype was about the swine flu, then came Ebola in 2014, and now it appears that the plague may be the next big scare to get people rushing back to their doctors, afraid of another outbreak.
Africa is usually the place where outbreaks start due to lower hygiene and closer contact with wild animals, which makes it no surprise that Madagascar has become the origin of this particular incident of plague. According to the World Health Organization, the number of deaths from plague in Madagascar was roughly 165 in mid-November after climbing from 30 since early October. So far 2,000 people have been infected, according to CNN.
Neighboring Countries Still on Alert – But Western Countries Shouldn’t Worry
Several neighboring countries of Madagascar are still on Alert for plague. Those nine countries include Ethiopia, Kenya, Comoros, Mozambique, Reunion island, Mauritius, Saychelles, Tanzania, and South Africa, either because they are in close proximity to, or due to trade links with Madagascar.
Even though neighboring countries in Africa are on alert, there is currently no need to panic if you live in a Western country. Usually, the outbreaks which start in Africa cause very minimal damage in America and Europe, however the media hype surrounding them is typically more massive in those countries than anywhere else in the world. For example, although during the Ebola outbreak only one American had died, it was possibly the most sensationalized media story in the country in 2014.
Additionally, outbreaks of plague are actually fairly typical in Madagascar, causing an estimated 400 infections per year. Unless you are traveling there in the near future, I would not worry too much about contracting the plague. According to the CDC, 80% of plague cases in the U.S. have been the bubonic form, which is less serious than the pneumonic plague and there have only been 1006 confirmed or probable human plague cases since 1900.
Luckily, the Madagascar outbreak which began in August 2017 is now steadily going down and has likely reached its peak. Generally speaking, travelers are still advised to be cautious when around that area.
“No vaccine is available to prevent plague, but travelers can take steps to prevent plague and plague can be prevented with antibiotics.” – CDC
Is It Lucrative for The Media to Hype Up Outbreaks Anymore?
One thing we can learn from past outbreaks is that they usually blow over fairly quickly – after the media and governmental authorities create a hype that outweighs the actual risk of infection. But with no vaccine and a never-ending supply of useless political news, is it still lucrative enough for the media to blow up stories about disease?
During the Ebola craze of 2014, a political advisor named David Axelrod spoke out about the media’s coverage of Ebola while the UK’s election campaigns were running. Apparently, even those high up in the political sphere see this type of coverage as a distraction from more important issues. He was quoted by the London Telegraph as saying that “Ebola is not a crisis in America. It is a crisis in West Africa, but the media and craven politicians are hyping the threat to keep interest.” David was a senior advisor to Barack Obama’s election campaigns as well as to Ed Miliband in the UK.
Now fast forward to 2017 where the major media uses Washington, particularly regarding unproven allegations with Russia, as the world’s biggest distraction from the most important and actionable stories of the day. Is it still necessary for major media organizations to talk about disease outbreaks in order to stay relevant while they can alternatively get more viewership in other ways? Regardless, it’s probably safe to say that we won’t be suffering from an epidemic of plague anytime soon.
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