Ebola in the Media and Manhattan College’s Preparation

The first Ebola case in the United States, Thomas Eric Duncan, died on Oct. 8.

What followed were three more cases, one of which reached New York City: Nina Pham, a Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital nurse who treated Duncan; Amber Joy Vinson, another nurse who worked at the same hospital as Pham, but didn’t treat Duncan; and Dr. Craig Allen Spencer, who was working in Guinea with “Médecins Sans Frontières,” or “Doctors Without Borders,” a French humanitarian nongovernmental organization.

U.S. Ebola Cases

Thomas Eric Duncan Diagnosed Sept. 30, Died Oct. 8
Nina Pham Diagnosed Oct. 12, Released Oct. 24
Amber Joy Vinson Diagnosed Oct. 15, Released Oct. 22
Craig Allen Spencer Diagnosed Oct. 23, Released Nov. 11

Portrayal in the News

Ebola, a microscopic wormlike virus with protruding subtle bumps, may be new to the U.S., but it isn’t new to Africa; the disease first came into existence in 1976 around the Ebola River, present-day Congo.

Media coverage in the states has made it seem as if this is breaking news, causing fear and hysteria among its fellow Americans, said Frankie Chike Edozien, a New York University clinical associate professor in Journalism and director of the Ghana based “Reporting Africa” program.

“It looms much, much larger in the news than it’s probably actually true,” Edozien said.

“Mainly what we’ve seen in the United States is coverage that’s really based on fear and not really science. As a matter of principle, for journalists to write about this stuff is a good thing, now how they write and cover it is a whole different matter.”

Journalists who are covering the Ebola story should talk with doctors because there’s no grey area in science. Whereas some in the media and politics have an agenda to create a problem where there isn’t one and are afraid, creating the fear and stigma that seeps into news coverage, he said.

“The best way to report on something like this is to go there, it’s very simple. It’s to go there and see what’s happening on the ground, and then if you’re here in New York City and you’re reporting on this from here then you have to explain it with the science. You have to talk to people who know about this, you have to give weight to people who understand science in the medical community rather than politicians who are not as well versed in the science of this.”

Manhattan’s Place in All This

Manhattan College has four students from the West African region, making up only 0.1 percent of the student body, and it’s one of many places taking precautions and working with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and New York City Department of Health to try to prevent Ebola from reaching its campus.

Administrators are meeting every week, gathering information and monitoring concerns of any new developments. In the case of a student showing signs or symptoms of the virus, the department of health would be contacted by Manhattan’s health services to assist and quarantine because of the college’s lack of resources.

As of right now Dr. Terence P. Hannigan, director of Manhattan’s Counseling Center and Health Services, said the college isn’t concerned about the disease as much as it is about its students.

“We’re keeping an eye on it.” Hannigan said. “We’re concerned about people being anxious about it.”

To reassure its students Manhattan’s president, Brennan O’Donnell, has an emergency response team that’s ready for anything and has been improved since Hurricane Sandy back in 2012.

“Keep calm, keep informed, keep reading about it, keep asking the right questions about the information that you’re getting, be a critical thinker, keep aware,” he said, “and then take care of yourself in the normal ways you take care of your health all the time.”

“The greater risk to the community, and not just to us to everyone, is more from the possibility of panic than it is from the point of view of actual health concerns.”

Update: Since the time of this article’s posting Dr. Craig Allen Spencer has been released from the hospital.