After a resident in Petaluma, california, called 911 to report what she said were two possible cases of Ebola, firefighters responded Sunday evening in full protective gear, including medical goggles and masks. But when they arrived at the home from where the call was made, firefighters found a woman with mild flu systems, no second case and no Ebola, according to the Press Democrat.
Scenes such as this have become increasingly common in the U.S., where fear and hysteria over the possibility of an Ebola outbreak have become increasingly rampant. Ebola “false alarms” have occurred as far away from Dallas (where the only cases of Ebola in the U.S. have been diagnosed) as California, New Jersey and Delaware. In extreme cases, some Americans have taken to isolating themselves inside their homes, even with hundreds of miles between them and the hospital where Thomas Eric Duncan, who was the first person diagnosed with the disease in the U.S., died on Oct. 8. Others are keeping their kids out of school over fears that their students might be exposed to the virus.
Often, Ebola false alarms involve someone becoming noticeably ill in public and those around them expressing concern that it could be Ebola. That was the case in Hackettstown, New Jersey, on Friday when a sick man walked into a Rite Aid and caused several people around him to become uneasy. When police arrived at the store, they sequestered everyone in the building until officials from the Warren County Health Department arrived, according to the Asbury Park Press. Health experts questioned the man and determined that he did not pose a threat of Ebola. He was taken to a nearby medical center for treatment for an unspecified illness, and the Rite Aid reopened an hour later.
On Saturday, another false alarm was reported at a medical facility in Kent County, Delaware, after it was discussed that an ill child would be tested for Ebola. A travel history was taken, however, and it was determined that the child and family had not been exposed to anyone from West Africa. Health workers at the hospital where the child was taken soon gave the “all clear,” according to Delaware Online.
American Airlines was accused last week of keeping a woman who threw up in the aisle locked in the plane’s bathroom over fears that she might have Ebola. Witnesses said the flight crew asked the woman where she had traveled and told the ill passenger she could not be let out of the lavatory. Upon landing, emergency personnel boarded the aircraft, removed the sick passenger and wrapped her belongings in plastic. The airline, however, denied that the crew acted out of concern for Ebola.
With just three cases of Ebola having been diagnosed in the U.S., health officials maintain that the average American’s risk of contracting the virus is extremely low, if not zero. One legal analyst calls the hysteria surrounding the virus “fear-bola.” “Fear-bola attacks the part of the brain responsible for rational thinking,” CNN commentator Mel Robbins said. “It starts with a low-grade concern about the two health care workers diagnosed with Ebola in Dallas and slowly builds into fear of a widespread epidemic in the United States.”