A perspective on the Ebola outbreak from a former hospital spokesperson

It happened. The Ebola virus finally came to the United States and ended up in Dallas of all places, right in my backyard. Of course, we shouldn’t be surprised, seeing as the DFW area is a major hub for internationals coming from all over the world, including West Africa.

It was just a matter of time.

I’m a little worried, I’ll admit. Because I’m a worrier, it’s what I do, and it’s something I have to war against every day. So yes, I don’t love that there is a patient with Ebola 30 minutes from my house.

But y’all, we all need to take a deep breath {sigh} and keep things in perspective. The first thing you need to understand:

The media’s number one job is to sell newspapers/get TV ratings so they can sell commercials. Their main job is not just to keep me informed, make me feel better, help me to keep things in perspective. They want me to watch their station instead of that old West Wing rerun on Netflix.

The other thing you need to understand:

Every hospital, government organization, and politician has a public relations person who is employed to help his or her boss get media coverage. It’s what I did for 10 years. Was there an ice storm? I pitched a story about ice-storm related baby booms. West Nile Virus? I found an infectious disease physician to conduct TV interviews. Major Texas heat wave? I pitched stories about how to recognize symptoms of a heat stroke and hosted reporters in our ER.  Ebola? PR PROFESSIONALS ARE BRAINSTORMING WAYS FOR THEIR HOSPITAL/DOCTOR/COUNTY JUDGE/GOVERNOR TO GET A PIECE OF THE PUBLICITY PIE.

This combination of reporters who are HUNGRY for Ebola stories and PR folks like me who are happy to feed them stories means that there will be STORY AFTER STORY AFTER STORY this week about Ebola. Every single angle will be covered. No stone will be left unturned. Fear will be spread and spread and SPREAD.

It is going to make people nervous wrecks because it will be all we think about. Unless you understand what (and who) is feeding this frenzy. It’s just folks who are trying to do their jobs and support their families. They’re not bad people. But with 24/7 news coverage,there will be speculation, misinformation, and missed context.  There will be people who mean well but misspeak. Know this.

Instead of getting scared, get cynical. We have had one person diagnosed with Ebola, and 23,000+ people will die from complications of influenza this year. Which one brings better ratings?

As for me, I’m going to choose to turn most of this coverage off and go back to my reruns of West Wing and my copy of Gone Girl on audio book. And take a big, deep breath.

(PS – For a great article with basic, non-scary facts from an infectious disease physician, check out this article from a fellow Fort Worth Mom Blogger).


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