Barry Saunders

Saunders: Calm down about Ebola and get your flu shot

Public health officials stress the importance of vaccinations to protect the health of people with compromised immune systems. Duke pulmonology patient Lee Welch of Raleigh, NC, gets a flu shot from Duke RN Anita Gregory in the Duke Pulmonology clinic at Duke Hospital South Wednesday, Nov. 27, 2013.
Public health officials stress the importance of vaccinations to protect the health of people with compromised immune systems. Duke pulmonology patient Lee Welch of Raleigh, NC, gets a flu shot from Duke RN Anita Gregory in the Duke Pulmonology clinic at Duke Hospital South Wednesday, Nov. 27, 2013. hlynch@newsobserver.com

The current hysteria over the Ebola virus reminds me of a sermon the Rev. Gilchrist preached at Providence Baptist Church 40 years ago.

He preached of a man who, while pledging his undying love to his woman, waxed poetic about how he wished he had 1,000 arms so he could hold her with all of them.

“Aw shut up,” Sweet Thang said. “You ain’t doing nothing with the two you’ve got.”

When I hear people wailing about the fear of the deadly virus – as though they can catch it merely from breathing or being in the same hemisphere as someone who’s been exposed – I want to evoke the Rev. Gilchrist’s message: “You ain’t doing nothing to prevent the illnesses that really are a threat.”

So far as we know, only one person in America has died from Ebola and two others have been infected with it – because they were in contact with his bodily fluids as he died, at his most contagious.

Hyping the risk

That hasn’t stopped people – especially many in the news media – from hyping risk, flashing images of people in hazmat suits and decrying what they perceive as the lack of government action to protect us.

You want to protect yourself? Cover up your mouth.

In their song “Express Yourself,” the Staple Singers said, “You keep talking ’bout the president won’t stop air pollution: put your hand on your mouth when you cough – that’ll help the solution”?

Same thing goes in this instance. If you want to increase your chances of staving off or not spreading illnesses, put your hands on your mouth when you cough, wash your hands frequently and stop dishing mashed taters after licking your grubby little fingers. Ugh.

You know from whom we have more to fear than some person returning from Liberia?

The person who doesn’t wash his or her hands before handling the serving ladles at the Golden Corral and other fine-dining buffet establishments. I’ve almost had to give up on one of America’s under-appreciated pleasures – cheap buffets – because of the lax hygiene habits of many fellow diners.

OK, no, I haven’t, but I at least have to sit with back to the serving station lest I lose my appetite from seeing people licking their fingers, then picking up the ladle for the gravy.

Get a flu shot

Want to know how else to lower your chance of getting sick?

Get a flu shot. The flu is airborne; Ebola is not.

Last year, for the first time in several, I didn’t get a flu shot. What I got was the flu and worse. My doctor didn’t cuss with his mouth, but his eyes said he thought I was an idiot.

For the record and, one hopes, once and for all, Dr. Julie Casani said, “You cannot get the flu from a flu shot.”

The director of the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services’ division of Public Health Preparedness and I attended a screening of the movie “Contagion,” which dealt with a worldwide panic resulting from a SARS-like disease.

Remember SARS? The precursor to Ebola, it induced its own panic.

I asked her the likelihood of Ebola appearing in North Carolina. “I’m not going to say it’s zero,” she said, “but there are a lot of robust strategies in place” to keep people monitored and in facilities.

“Right now in North Carolina, you are more likely to get the flu than Ebola, so we took that opportunity to talk to people about going out and getting their flu shots.”

She also said her office is trying not to add to the panic – panic that is, for instance, causing some North Carolina schools to close.

Oy.

President Obama, anxious to ensure the virus doesn’t spread – but also no doubt swayed by the hysteria – appointed an Ebola czar. Know what would be more effective?

A mashed taters czar, to keep filthy-fingered diners from contaminating food at buffet restaurants.

One more thing: When you get your flu shot, you only have to get it in one arm – not all 1,000.

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