Ebola panic spreads in Durban

DURBAN seems to be caught in the feverish grip of an Ebola panic as unconfirmed reports of a possible Ebola patient at a local hospital continue to spread like wildfire.

So far neither the health department nor the National Institute of Communicable Diseases (NICD) have confirmed reports of an Ebola case following media reports of a man suspected of being infected with the virus being admitted to Addington Hospital on Wednesday.

On the contrary, both the department and the NICD have denied these reports, but that hasn’t stopped Ebola panic from going viral on social media.

There seems to be a general feeling of  and mistrust behind some of the online hysteria, with many social media users questioning the information coming from officials and drawing their own conclusions from anecdote and rumour.

Even as you read this, speculation is rife on Facebook groups and and comments sections across  Durban’s digital community, even though nothing has been confirmed.

Confusing comments from the KZN health MEC, panicked hospital staff and poor communication from health officials haven’t helped the situation.

The fear is understandable: Ebola continues to ravage West African countries like Liberia and Sierra Leone, countries that were ill prepared to handle the outbreak.

Judging by how this Ebola scare has been handled here, it seems the question of how prepared we are as a city and as a country for an Ebola outbreak is still up for debate.

Health officials have a responsibility to keep citizens well-informed about something as serious as Ebola, and so far they haven’t done a very good job.

But the responsibility doesn’t end there: the media, as well as citizens also have a responsibility not to spread undue panic through speculation and misinformation, which can often do more harm than good.

That we can leave  to the Americans.

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