A Panic Foretold: Ebola in the United States

Critical Public Health, DOI:10.1080/09581596.2016.1159285, 2016

Northeastern University School of Law Research Paper No. 263-2016

Posted: 5 May 2016

See all articles by Wendy E. Parmet

Wendy E. Parmet

Northeastern University - School of Law

Michael S. Sinha

Harvard-MIT Center for Regulatory Science, Harvard Medical School; Program On Regulation, Therapeutics, And Law (PORTAL), Brigham and Women's Hospital and Harvard Medical School

Date Written: May 4, 2016

Abstract

This article explores the response in the United States to the 2014 Ebola outbreak as a consequence of the way public health professionals and the media portrayed and planned for emerging infectious diseases (EIDs). The authors first trace the “outbreak narrative” from the late 1960s to today, noting the strong and often fear-inducing language used by both popular media and some in the scientific community. While this construction of the threat of EIDs led to increased funding for research, it also supported several coercive government preparedness policies. The Ebola outbreak in 2014 followed the script of a panic, with publicity and a few diagnosed cases leading to panic that stigmatized anyone, including health professionals, associated with the disease, and the use of highly coercive measures, such as quarantine. This response was grounded in fear rather than evidence-based science. The authors conclude that the U.S. response to Ebola should be carefully reviewed in order to better prepare for future disease outbreaks.

Keywords: Ebola, Outbreak Narrative, Emerging Infectious Diseases, EIDs

Suggested Citation

Parmet, Wendy E. and Sinha, Michael, A Panic Foretold: Ebola in the United States (May 4, 2016). Critical Public Health, DOI:10.1080/09581596.2016.1159285, 2016; Northeastern University School of Law Research Paper No. 263-2016. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2775353

Wendy E. Parmet (Contact Author)

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Michael Sinha

Harvard-MIT Center for Regulatory Science, Harvard Medical School ( email )

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