Viruses are scary things. Some of them are deadly but they are very small and invisible to the naked eye. The only defenses against them, even in states where you can openly carry firearms, are good hygiene, vaccines and your body’s natural defenses. That means that there is no way to be 100% sure that you’ve successfully defended yourself.

This natural fear can be used to drum up hysteria and make things seem much worse than they are. (Anyone remember bird flu or swine flu?). Modern journalism tends to be more interested in ratings and page views than public service, hysterical panicked headlines simply sell better than informative or educational ones.

There are also those in the United States, and probably elsewhere, who want to use the Ebola scare to score political points.

The truth is that unless you live in West Africa and work in a medical or mortuary facility, your chance of getting anywhere near Ebola is slim to none. It is not airborne or water borne. The only way to contract the virus is to come into contact with the bodily fluids of a symptomatic Ebola patient.

Unlike most types of flue, Ebola is only contagious after someone who has contracted the virus is already showing symptoms.

The video below from SciShow explains it all in detail in about 4 minutes. If you’d like to listen to a little more in depth discussion, the Mother JonesInquiring Minds‘ podcast this week features Kent State University epidemiologist and Ebola expert Tara Smith discussing Ebola and other diseases.

Just a few minutes of your time will make you more informed about this disease than most people in North America, apparently including many journalists. It will also give you a good base of knowledge to put to use as news about the current outbreak continues to emerge.