A Tale of Two Viruses

You may have been hearing a bit about something called “coronavirus” in the news recently. Coronavirus, or to give it its common name “a cold,” has been generating quite a bit of media panic. You’ll read scare headlines like “It can spread before you know you have it!” You know, just like every virus. I just read that one of the towns near me has canceled their Chinese New Year celebration because…well, I’m not sure why. Maybe being the presence of people of Chinese descent regardless of where they live, or just looking at dragon puppets will make you sick? Maybe to be extra safe, you’d better not even say the word “Chinese.”

You see, apparently, there’s a possibly new variety of this cold virus that can give you quite a bad cold, you know, the kind that makes you tired with a bad sore throat, and your nose spray only works an hour, and it just doesn’t seem to go away forever….

Now coronavirus infections, like most upper respiratory infection causing viruses, always have the possibility of advancing to something worse in a vulnerable host, such as someone immunocompromised, such as an old person, a baby or someone with a chronic disease. It seems as if this particular virus that’s been in the news may have more of a propensity for this, although it is impossible to tell—we don’t really have any realistic figures about how many people have it, the percentage that got hospitalized or died, and if this is really any different from the annual outbreaks of more severe upper respiratory infection we call the flu. (I should note here that actual “flu” is a very serious illness and very different from the mild intestinal illnesses and bad colds that people often refer to as flu.)

So, what should you be doing about coronavirus or any virus for that matter? The same as you always should be doing. Get your flu shot, wash your hands after touching anything that a lot of other people touch, stay away from sick people if you are immunocompromised, or sick yourself, and for the deity’s sake, don’t cough into your hands and then handle everything around you.

But I said two viruses. What other virus do I want to talk about? Well, I’m just really struck by the different news handling and media reaction to this virus, which may or may not be important, versus a virus that should scare the ca-ca out of you, but seems to have flown under the media radar, relatively speaking—Ebola.

Ebola is a truly scary, scary virus. It spreads just like the common cold—someone with Ebola coughs or snots on their hands (or a person) and then someone touches where they contaminated, and boom! you’ve got it, too. It then quickly makes you deathly ill, and in fact, without intensive medical intervention, you are almost certain to die. One infected person snotting or hacking their way around the New York subway system could kill thousands (or more) people. The only thing that has saved us so far is that Ebola is not that widespread at present and is found mostly in places where people are too poor to do a lot of long distance air travel. But we’re still only one plane trip away from that changing.

But we didn’t hear nearly as much about this, as we are about a much less threatening situation in China. How did this happen?

Now I swear I’m not writing this while wearing a tinfoil hat and surfing QAnon sites. But this difference is essentially being driven by our government. How? Well, journalists are not doctors. When they want medical information, in the United States, they get it from government issued statements, from organizations like the Center for Disease Control (CDC). And if you read the CDC statements about Ebola, you’ll notice that they are very, very carefully worded.

These information handouts use language such as “spread by body fluids” which is technically true—snot is a body fluid, but the wordings are clearly designed to lead the less careful reader, or the non-medical reader to associate Ebola with viruses such as HIV which require intimate, direct contact with body fluids to be infectious. And after all, didn’t HIV come from Africa? It all makes sense, to the lay reader. The CDC isn’t exactly lying, but they are dissembling, letting you draw your own, erroneous, conclusions. Even these days, there is the same misinformation all over the web, even sites trying to make “coranavirus” AKA a common cold virus, seem much worse. That’s one of the problems with the Internet, of course. There may be hundreds or different news sites, but they all get their information, good or bad, from a single source.

Clearly, someone in the CDC hierarchy made the decision to try and minimize the public’s reaction to Ebola, and clearly, no such decision, or even an opposite decision was made somewhere in the US government concerning this upper respiratory virus from China.

That much is clear, but I for one am still wondering about the overarching why of these decisions. I would just default to racism, but although people are racist about the Chinese, it’s not as though they aren’t racist about black people. Perhaps someone in the CDC was worried that too much information about Ebola would promote racism, since as it is found in African most of its victims would be black? Perhaps, since we are in a “trade war” with China these days, the current administration is hoping that people will decide that all Chinese goods are contaminated and not buy them?

The point of all this is that you don’t have to be a crazy conspiracy nut to realize that even supposedly impartial, scientific information can also be controlled or modified by other agendas, agendas that may not be open or obvious, but they still exist.

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