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The Ebola Witch Hunt - Separating the Science from the Scandal

Updated on October 26, 2014
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I am not the world's biggest fan of President Barach Obama. His Affordable Health Care Act (AKA Obama Care), hasn't exactly been affordable for me, because the cost of my health insurance has approximately doubled since this law took effect. Furthermore, from the perspective of a postal worker it disturbs me that he agrees with Postmaster Pat Donahoe that Saturday delivery should be eliminated.

But last Saturday I finally did hear something on the radio that I agreed with Obama about. In this Presidential address he was explaining his decision not to close off air travel to Africa; in essence cautioning people to calm down and look at the science before succumbing to Ebola hysteria. Unfortunately for the President, this statement will probably lead to the complete erosion of whatever is left of his approval ratings, because the media is making sure that the American public is not in the mood to be calmed down. The news outlets continue to fan the flames of the Ebola panic, which in my opinion is a danger mostly contrived for radio and TV ratings, not a threat that deserves the complete mobilization of our limited health care resources.

Despite the President's attempts to be a voice of reason crying out in a wilderness filled with mostly illusory dangers, you won't find me snuggling up next to any Obama cuddlies on my sofa. You won't find any of the infectious disease plush toys pictured here in my home either. Even though they are immensely popular; selling almost as briskly as hand sanitizer these days, I find collecting them to be in poor taste, a hobby that is perhaps appropriate only for science teachers with a rather sinister sense of humor. I am using these disease cuddlies in this article because maybe I have a slightly warped sense of humor myself, and also because the reaction to the Ebola outbreak is more than a little warped and needs to be put back into perspective.


Barach Obama plush toys are popular either to cuddle or to kick, depending upon your political orientation.
Barach Obama plush toys are popular either to cuddle or to kick, depending upon your political orientation. | Source

Voice of Reason in the Ebola Chaos?

Let's face it - It's fun and cool to hate Obama these days, and if you belong to certain ethnic groups it is almost a requirement that will get you a lot of strange, worried, repulsed looks if you do not, almost as if you were the one of the current four or five Americans infected with Ebola. All the same, despite my personal quarrels with Obama I am inclined to judge the man based on the merits of his words and deeds and not because of any dogmatic political convictions I may or may not hold. Therefore, I was inclined to agree with the President when he said a little over a week ago:

"This is a serious disease, but we can't give in to hysteria or fear - because that only makes it harder to get people the accurate information they need. We have to be guided by the science. We have to remember the basic facts.

So in light of President Obama's speech of October 18, what is the "science" behind Ebola? What are the basic facts? Is it really the deadly epidemic that will kill a third of the world's population, as some Facebook prophets have forewarned, or is it not much more than a mere static blip on the United States infectious disease radar?

In order to gauge the true threat level represented by Ebola, lets look at some of the other diseases that are still alive and kicking out there, remaining as deadly as ever even though they seem to have been completely steamrolled into oblivion by the Ebola panic juggernaut.

I have discovered through personal experience that these HIV cuddly toys do not make good anniversary gifts or stocking stuffers.
I have discovered through personal experience that these HIV cuddly toys do not make good anniversary gifts or stocking stuffers. | Source

HIV

Although HIV was at one time the disease de rigueur to be paranoid about, it has suddenly and drastically been eclipsed by Ebola. This is true even on the African continent, where Ebola deaths are mere decimal point percentages when lined up next to the decimation caused by the HIV virus.

People don't talk much about HIV anymore and it produces a lot of yawns as a conversation starter. Still the disease has not gone away, even though you won't hear so much as a fragmented sentence about it on talk radio. All the same HIV is alive and kicking; the World Health Organization (WHO) estimating that complications caused by the virus kill between 1.5 to 2 million people annually. 1.2 million of these deaths occur on the African continent alone, which by contrast has lost 4912 people to Ebola in 2014. I just did a little math - I've found there is nothing more intimidating than a mailman who can work story problems better than you can, and figured out that at this rate it will take Ebola 244 years to kill as many people as HIV does annually in Africa. So if we listen to the scientists rather than the self-proclaimed prophets of the Ebola apocalypse, it is pretty clear that Ebola will not wipe out the human population of the African continent, something that HIV is doing a much better job of.

Meanwhile HIV sits back, rears its ugly, cuddly plush toy head and laughs at all the commotion caused by the Ebola distraction, overjoyed that the attention of those pesky, meddling WHO (World Health Organization) and CDC (Center for Disease Control) agents has been temporarily diverted elsewhere.

Talk about a frightening Trick-or-Treat!

A convincing Tuberculosis cough used to be a good way to clear out the line at the supermarket or Starbucks, but since Ebola made the scene nobody falls for that trick anymore.
A convincing Tuberculosis cough used to be a good way to clear out the line at the supermarket or Starbucks, but since Ebola made the scene nobody falls for that trick anymore. | Source

Tuberculosis

Remember Tuberculosis? Tuberculosis (TB) was a disease that medical science gave a triumphant fist pump to when doctors thought they had largely eradicated it around mid century, but it turns out the celebration was premature. Today, largely due to antibiotic resistant strains, one third of the world's population is believed to be infected with tuberculosis. In 2013 there were an estimated 9 million cases and 1.5 million deaths.

Because of the trendy new vaccination paranoia in the United States and other "developed" nations, TB and other ghosts of diseases past such as polio and whooping cough are also making a comeback. However, I'll bet you if I walk into a crowded doctor's waiting room and shout out "I have TB!" not more than two or three people will look up from their cell phone screens before yawning and going back to Facebook chat. It seems people have forgotten that if I hack out my TB cough in that waiting room they will need to have a stack of books piled up for the next six months they are going to spend in the sanitarium. On the other hand, if I go into the same waiting room and shout out that I have Ebola, as a student at my son's college did last week, people will be getting trampled trying to flee the building like it was the front of the ticket line at a Beyonce concert. This is fine with me, because afterward I can snag that choice seat by the magazine rack. Anyway, this hysteria exists even though in head to head all around death competition TB is definitely kicking Ebola's butt, hands down.

The Flu season is now upon us, but our cuddly but confused little friend here has suffered a sharp popularity drop during the Ebola hysteria.
The Flu season is now upon us, but our cuddly but confused little friend here has suffered a sharp popularity drop during the Ebola hysteria. | Source

Influenza

But what about the good old, sweet little ordinary flu? Compared to the nasty connotations associated with that evil "E" word, nowadays "Flu" has such a pleasant, harmless ring to it. Indeed there has been a bit of resentment in the Orthomyxovirus community that Ebola is hogging all the attention right when the cold and flu season is getting ready to crank up, and I believe this grievance is legitimate. After all, when one looks at sheer numbers the flu virus could kick Ebola's butt with all of its nucleoproteins tied behind its back.

According to the Center for Disease Control, influenza and the pneumonia commonly associated with the flu killed 53,000 people in 2011, a fairly typical year. But even this was a drop in the bucket compared to cancer, which killed 576,000, and heart disease, which resulted in 596,000 deaths that same year. But the last I heard the CDC isn't going to be busting down doors to throw people in the quarantine tank in order to keep them away from those dripping double cheeseburgers, hot fudge sundaes and cigarettes that are killing them slowly.

Source

Who is killing Who? Ask the WHO.

If you take a careful look above at this WHO (World Health Organization) chart for the year 2012, you'll see that we don't really need a lot of help from Ebola because we are doing a pretty good job of killing ourselves. The heart disease and stroke deaths per 100,000 that are depicted in the graph for high income nations are clearly associated with good living and poor dietary and lifestyle choices that people in poor countries can't afford, and therefore die from at a much lower rate. Yet despite Michelle Obama's highly ridiculed campaign to make schoolkids skinny, people essentially ignore heart disease until it is too late and there is none of the "Katy bar the door," hunker down, paranoiac rage we have seen during this Ebola outbreak.

Most certainly the CDC should take steps to make sure that Ebola does not become much more serious than this tiny, isolated outbreak has been, but I for one am not going to add my small voice to the deafening chorus of CDC detractors. Although I am the first to cry foul when our government demonstrates corruption, malfeasance, and incompetence, I don't think this is one of those cases. It seems actually amazing to me that the CDC has been able to identify and isolate all of the 70 some people that the lone US Ebola fatality, Thomas Eric Duncan, came into contact with after he entered the United States infected with the virus. Is it reasonable to expect that the CDC will keep every single person in a nation of 300 million from getting sick? Half of my coworkers are laid out with some early season bug right now, and I don't hear them shouting for CDC heads to roll in between their coughing spasms.

Ebola is a red herring. I am normally not a conspiracy person, but it doesn't surprise me that the largely smoke and mirrors Ebola media outburst has occurred in such close proximity to the upcoming November 4 elections. It is a frightening illness indeed and a gruesome way to die, but I think that the highly unmerited and exaggerated paranoia it has caused is diverting resources away from illnesses that are much more serious and require all hands on deck to fight.

That's not to say I'm ready to curl up with the Ebola plush toy right now, hoping that it will softly soothe my way into dreamland during these troubled times. No, it looks way too creepy and it gives me the heebie-jeebies just thinking about its ugly implications. And now the dog has dragged the Obama cuddly off into the backyard where he is making short work of it, so there's no comfort there either. So where do I go to for consolation and solace these days, with threats to life and limb around every corner? Maybe I'll just take up smoking for stress relief. That seems relatively harmless, if you believe what those fat boys on the radio say about it.

Need some cute, cuddly microbe to distract you from Ebola?  Name your poison.
Need some cute, cuddly microbe to distract you from Ebola? Name your poison. | Source

Express your opinion on the Ebola "Crisis."

Is Ebola a dangerous threat or a mostly media-manufactured smokescreen?

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    • profile image

      Old Poolman 2 years ago

      Mel - Once again you present the truth and facts in a highly educational and interesting manner.

      To me the most alarming thing about all of this is how politics drives most decisions and even the news we see. I really don't know what would be the right way to handle the Ebola situation. Our borders are pretty much wide open so most anyone could fly into Canada or Mexico and easily enter the USA.

      I guess we just have to live with these things until the sky starts falling, then we can panic and go back to living in caves.

    • Mel Carriere profile image
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      Mel Carriere 2 years ago from San Diego California

      Living in caves might be better Old Poolman, at least we wouldn't have the news media to tell us what was killing us and we would be back to a state of blissful ignorance. Thanks for reading!

    • Ericdierker profile image

      Eric Dierker 2 years ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

      Great job just with the facts man. I always have just looked at the numbers and thought -- lightening strikes and shark attacks on land are just as likely as me or mine getting Ebola. Thanks

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      I'm with you my friend. I've hardly paid any attention to the so-called crisis. I was too busy reading about the school shooting here in Washington State, something I find much more alarming. :) Thanks for the voice of reason.

    • Mel Carriere profile image
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      Mel Carriere 2 years ago from San Diego California

      Eric Dierker, where I deliver mail I am more likely to get swept away in a Tsunami but I don't pack a life raft. We can't walk around in a constant state of panic. Thanks for reading!

    • Mel Carriere profile image
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      Mel Carriere 2 years ago from San Diego California

      Bill I guess the advantage you have living on your urban farm is you don't commute to work 11 miles one way in heavy traffic and you aren't exposed to the rantings of the radio pundits. The clucking of your chickens and quail is a much more peaceful and intelligent noise, I am sure. Sorry about your tragedy up there. Thanks for reading.

    • DDE profile image

      Devika Primić 2 years ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

      Hi Mel Carriere you have presented important notes here and frankly I don't see ''A cause for concern but not deserving of the hype'' as I have voted. You stated the facts clearly. All with precaution!

    • Mel Carriere profile image
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      Mel Carriere 2 years ago from San Diego California

      Thank you DDE. I think a lot of the hype is politically motivated. The Republican party is trying to take back the Senate in our November election and they are using Ebola to discredit the Democrats. Thanks for reading!

    • AliciaC profile image

      Linda Crampton 2 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      This is a very informative and thought provoking hub, Mel. Ebola needs to be controlled, but as you have shown, other diseases are having far more serious effects at the moment. Thanks for sharing all the details.

    • profile image

      sheilamyers 2 years ago

      BRAVO! I'll never say that the number of Ebola cases won't increase, but as you said, I don't see it as being the next pandemic to wipe out millions of people. Also as you said, HIV/AIDS provided the same reaction when it first hit the US and now it's rare to hear anyone talking about it. I'm more concerned about the flu becoming a larger problem since it mutates every year or so. Think about it. The shot you get this year was made to protect against last year's strain so you can still get a bad case of any new strain that comes along.

    • Nell Rose profile image

      Nell Rose 2 years ago from England

      Hi, great points, yes I totally agree with you, the strange thing is that as I am reading this I have the news on in the background over here in England, and would you believe it? they have not mentioned ebola once tonight! maybe they are getting the same ideas as you, too much hype. its horrible what's happening over there, but there is only so much we can do about it, and I hope the powers that be are doing that, we just have to be careful and keep watch. those other illnesses do put it in perspective, nell

    • grand old lady profile image

      Mona Sabalones Gonzalez 2 years ago from Philippines

      Haven't read much about the ebola disease beyond headlines, this is the first time I read an article on it. you're right, it could be exaggerated by media. The examples you mentioned point out the need for perspective.

    • Mel Carriere profile image
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      Mel Carriere 2 years ago from San Diego California

      Thank you AliciaC. I think all we need to do is provoke the thoughts a little to get rid of all the hysteria.

    • Mel Carriere profile image
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      Mel Carriere 2 years ago from San Diego California

      Sheila Myers thanks to the Ebola hysteria a lot of valuable medical resources are being siphoned off that could be put to better use elsewhere. Thanks for reading!

    • Mel Carriere profile image
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      Mel Carriere 2 years ago from San Diego California

      Nell Rose maybe the reason they are not mentioning Ebola is because you are not in the middle of an election cycle and there is no political capital to be made. Thanks for reading!

    • Mel Carriere profile image
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      Mel Carriere 2 years ago from San Diego California

      Grand Old, lady I am glad that in your country people are keeping their heads on their shoulders and not giving in to the paranoia. Thanks for reading!

    • Iris Draak profile image

      Cristen Iris 2 years ago from Boise, Idaho

      Agreed. Thank you for listing AIDS, tuberculosis, etc.. Another disease that no one pays attention to is malaria, which kills far more people on the African continent even then AIDS. But of course those diseases don't touch the average American so we "yawn", as you say. This one can be brought to our doorstep (however unlikely). I think that is the reason people buy into the hysteria. What a poor commentary on us. It's darkly humorous that we Americans think ourselves so advanced and scientific until something like this happens, then we abandon all reasoned thinking. Thanks for bringing some reason to this whole thing.

    • Mel Carriere profile image
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      Mel Carriere 2 years ago from San Diego California

      Thank you Iris Draak I've been hearing so much jingoistic paranoia - today I was hearing about New Jersey Governor Christie's overkill, that I thought someone should break the trend. Thanks for reading!

    • RonElFran profile image

      Ronald E. Franklin 2 years ago from Mechanicsburg, PA

      It seems to me that some politicians saw the Ebola outbreak as more of a political opportunity than anything else. If stirring up irrational fears among the public was the cost of gaining that advantage, they had no problem with that. I hope voters remember.

    • Mel Carriere profile image
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      Mel Carriere 2 years ago from San Diego California

      Thank you Ron ElFran. I think they have most of the voters pretty well trained. Most of the voters don't try to think for themselves and just dance to the tune of the radio blabbermouths. I appreciate you dropping in!

    • askformore lm profile image

      askformore lm 2 years ago

      I agree with you that there is a lot of hysteria about Ebola.

      I also agree with you that there are many deceases that are a much greater threat to the Global health. (In those African countries that has many Ebola casualties, even in those countries they have deceases with an even larger death toll).

      So why the hysteria?

      I believe that the reason is that the cure or treatment is yet unknown.

      Therefore: Ebola is like an unknown threat; just as it would be if the rumor said that Zombies were running around in the neighboring town.

      So what is then the good news? I believe that the focus on Ebola will result in a very soon invention of cure and vaccine.

    • Mel Carriere profile image
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      Mel Carriere 2 years ago from San Diego California

      President Obama just asked for 6.2 billion to fight Ebola in Africa and at home. Apparently the Ebola witch hunt has finally gotten to him too. I agree with your assumptions askformore but I think the cause of the scare is mostly political manipulation. Thanks for reading.

    • Carol McCullough profile image

      Success In Life 2 years ago from U.S.

      Great Hub Mel! I like the way you explained the Political gain to the Ebola crisis.

    • Mel Carriere profile image
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      Mel Carriere 2 years ago from San Diego California

      Thank you Carol. I almost called you Coleen after the other notable McCullough writer. I am not surprised that now that the election is over there is nary a peep about Ebola. Thanks for reading!

    • torrilynn profile image

      torrilynn 2 years ago

      This was very informative and really gets you to think.

    • Mel Carriere profile image
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      Mel Carriere 2 years ago from San Diego California

      Thank you torrilyn I am glad you said that. I think if people did more thinking and less reacting we would be infinitely better off. Thanks for reading.

    • mary615 profile image

      Mary Hyatt 2 years ago from Florida

      You really put a lot of thought and research into this article, and it shows! You brought to light some things I had not considered.

      I can't believe a person can actually purchase these plush toys for different diseases!

      I will give Obama credit for one of my daughters now who can get health insurance for a preexisiting condition she has. She was never able to get coverage before.

      Voted this Hub Up, etc. and shared.

    • RTalloni profile image

      RTalloni 2 years ago from the short journey

      An interesting read worth thinking through, adding a lot to the discussion about this topic. There's no doubt it's being used for political purposes, probably as a distraction at the very least, but the speech encouraging people to think reasonably about the disease was rather lame considering the number of illegal entrants into our country this year. Don't get me wrong, people should think reasonably, particularly those who have travelled from Africa, but there are unanswered questions. The average person does not want to just take the word of those who are well protected from the exposures.

    • Sherry Hewins profile image

      Sherry Hewins 2 years ago from Sierra Foothills, CA

      Although HIV kills a lot more people, it works slowly, and is more difficult to catch. Ebola is a very scary illness. I think more effort needs to be put into preventing it's spread in the countries where the outbreaks are occurring. Of course we need to think reasonably about it, and not panic, but take sensible steps to isolate anyone who has it.

    • Mel Carriere profile image
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      Mel Carriere 2 years ago from San Diego California

      mary615 it is gratifying to hear that your daughter has been helped. I personally did not vote for the man, but it perturbs me to see the President demonized for everything, sometimes to the exclusion of the facts. Thanks for reading.

    • Mel Carriere profile image
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      Mel Carriere 2 years ago from San Diego California

      RTalloni I think there are much bigger fish to fry and it doesn't surprise me that now that the election is over we haven't heard much about it at all. Where is the plague of Biblical proportions that was going to kill a third of the world's population? Thanks for reading!

    • Mel Carriere profile image
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      Mel Carriere 2 years ago from San Diego California

      Sherry Hewins there is no doubt it is bad and needs to be fought on every street corner but since about 5 people in the US have it I think 6.2 billion is just political overkill. Thanks for reading!

    • JKWriter profile image

      JKWriter 2 years ago from Right in the middle.

      Indeed, I've not heard one mention of it since the elections. Hmmm...However, irrational fear always finds a way. Today, I saw some people swearing the end of the world is happening because it snowed in New York. I'll bet that some of them find a way to blame that on other people too. I agree with what you and others have said...we need to just focus on the facts!

    • Mel Carriere profile image
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      Mel Carriere 2 years ago from San Diego California

      Facts are inconvenient, JKWriter, when you can use wild exaggerations to produce panic for political gain. Thank you for dropping by with a great comment!

    • aviannovice profile image

      Deb Hirt 2 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      Media hype reminds me of war propaganda. You did a great job here on the serious killers that we really do need to be concerned about.

    • Mel Carriere profile image
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      Mel Carriere 2 years ago from San Diego California

      I think the mass media has become about as un-objective as war propaganda, Deb, and it troubles me. We used to get real news on the TV and radio, now we get sound bites about news and then ten minutes on Katie Perry's new dress, or some other vapid subject like that. Thank you for the visit and comment.

    • AudreyHowitt profile image

      Audrey Howitt 2 years ago from California

      I would add Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) to that list of things more likely to kill you than Ebola-- Somehow this just got so much more coverage than it should have--

    • Mel Carriere profile image
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      Mel Carriere 2 years ago from San Diego California

      Thank you Audrey I agree. I assume you are talking about Staph infections? Those are a very serious concern but they get very little press because they are just not sexy enough. I didn't check to see if there is a cuddly plush toy for that. Thanks for the great comment.

    • CatherineGiordano profile image

      Catherine Giordano 2 years ago from Orlando Florida

      Ebola plush toys!? Did you know a recent survey showed that Americans thought that ebola was biggest main health threat. How many of those people who are terrified of ebola have bothered to get a flu shot which only costs about $20 at drug-store or walk-in clinics? It's free with some insurance plans, including Medicare.

    • Mel Carriere profile image
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      Mel Carriere 2 years ago from San Diego California

      Catherine Ebola plush toys were all the rage for a while but now that the election is over both the disease and the toys are sadly forgotten. Meanwhile I just heard the news that the flu virus has mutated, my flu shot wont do me any good, and we will probably have a real epidemic on our hands. Thanks for reading!

    • profile image

      Paulo 2 years ago

      Hey, dude. I live in California and will most likely be going to UC Berkely next year (only 40 mnitues from San Francisco), so if you need any help, I'm here.

    • Mel Carriere profile image
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      Mel Carriere 2 years ago from San Diego California

      Thank you Paulo for your kind offer. Unfortunately California is a very big place and I am around 500 miles down the coast from you. All the same thank you for reading and tell your Berkeley friends about me please.

    • DWDavisRSL profile image

      DW Davis 2 years ago from Eastern NC

      You certainly have a way of putting things in perspective that is lacking in the major, and even minor, media these days. A very well done Hub.

    • Mel Carriere profile image
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      Mel Carriere 2 years ago from San Diego California

      Thank you sir. I appreciate your encouraging comment.

    • SusanDeppner profile image

      Susan Deppner 2 years ago from Arkansas USA

      You make so many excellent points. I absolutely appreciate your perspective, especially since "ebola" became "e-whata?", overtaken most recently by the measles hype (remember that?) and the blizzards in the northeast. I'm wondering what the next crisis will be, once the snow melts.

    • Mel Carriere profile image
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      Mel Carriere 2 years ago from San Diego California

      Susan I think the next top level threat will be whatever can deliver the most political capital. Thanks for reading and the follow.

    • Kristen Howe profile image

      Kristen Howe 2 years ago from Northeast Ohio

      Mel, this was a great and well-written hub on the ebola virus that hit here last month. Very insightful and sharp too. Voted up for interesting!

    • Mel Carriere profile image
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      Mel Carriere 2 years ago from San Diego California

      Thank you Kristen Howe I appreciate your kind words. The whole Ebola scare just seems so last month now, doesn't it? Now that the mid-term elections are over it is like Ebola never happened.

    • Kristen Howe profile image

      Kristen Howe 2 years ago from Northeast Ohio

      I agree. It did hit close to home here in Ohio, when a nurse was sick with the virus. You're welcome. And now back to regular politics for the 2016 elections.

    • Mel Carriere profile image
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      Mel Carriere 2 years ago from San Diego California

      Kristen Howe the regular campaign mud slinging has already started in earnest. Who knows what they will think up next.

    • Kristen Howe profile image

      Kristen Howe 2 years ago from Northeast Ohio

      I know. Hillary Clinton just announced her campaign run for the president today. Let the games begin.

    • Mel Carriere profile image
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      Mel Carriere 2 years ago from San Diego California

      They already tried a pre-emptive scandal with the emails, but when they found out Jeb Bush did the same thing that sort of cooled off. It's going to be interesting and full of unexpected twists and turns.

    • Kristen Howe profile image

      Kristen Howe 2 years ago from Northeast Ohio

      OMG! I remember that and how she handled it. Now she's up against Ron Paul I believe, who announced his candiacy a week ago or so. I don't follow politics that much these days.

    • florypaula profile image

      Paula 22 months ago

      I do remember the hysteria that was at some point with the Ebola virus. You are right, people need to calm down otherwise information can't get to them. I remember I had a short panic moment thinking at where all this can lead and what a horrible outcome this might be and I was blocking away any reason because I was basing my emotions and thoughts on fear. Crazy.

      Have a nice day :)

    • Mel Carriere profile image
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      Mel Carriere 22 months ago from San Diego California

      The media whipped us all into a frenzy over this florypaula. Now that the election is over, no one cares. Thanks for reading.

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