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When flu season brings similar symptoms, how to NOT panic about Ebola

History shows us that when there are unanswered questions about a disease, panic can grow. It happened with HIV/AIDS and SARS. The unknown can be overwhelming.

In terms of Ebola in the United States, there are unknown reasons for the spread, no known cures, and too many missteps compared to accomplishments, according to Dr. Charles Figley, the Paul Henry Kurzweg Distinguished Chair in Disaster Mental Health at the Tulane University School of Social Work.

"So far it's like a never-ending football game in which there are constant scores on both sides. There needs to be some sense from our leaders that we have a handle on this," said Figley.

Without accurate information, Figley said, there's a sad chance of repeating panicked history.

"Certainly the AIDS crisis that started bubbling up in the 1980s, there was tremendous amount of misinformation, and I think it's very similar to that today," said Figley.

Figley was asked if it is unfair to call the current situation a form of hysteria already.

"Oh yes, it is hysteria already. In terms of social media in particular," Figley said, "because there's widespread information and people are filling that in and bad decisions are being made. And, and there's panic like, 'I'm not going to go to Texas.'"

The DHH said people are also filing into hospitals worried that their fevers and diarrhea may be Ebola even though they've had no exposure to anyone with the virus. Dr. Raoult Ratard of the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals is worried those trips to the hospital will become more frequent when flu season starts, as the early-stage symptoms of both sicknesses are similar.

"In the winter it's going to be even more common, so you cannot suspect anybody that has flu-like symptoms to be Ebola when you have no history of exposure," said Ratard.

Figley said it may be too early for people to be fully calm. 


"However, soon, when the nuances of the disease become common knowledge, things will settle down. It's when it starts becoming boring, really, that we then take a deep breath and move on in our lives," said Figley.

Figley said the psychological battle can be tough, but remember that most people have dealt with traumas much worse and won.

"My hope is that when people see an emergency like we are seeing now, and the potential for panic, my hope is they think about the traumatic experiences they have survived and recognize that things will get better, and that the facts will emerge, and eventually things will get far better than they are now," said Figley.


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