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Uploaded:2014-08-12
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In which John is diagnosed with ebola by the Internet but turns out to be suffering from viral meningitis. How should we imagine novel diseases and how should we combat them? And why do we only focus on diseases that we fear will affect "us"? How does the way we imagine "us" shape the way we respond to disease outbreaks? Questions like that are examined while meningitis headaches are lamented.

Good morning, Hank. It's Tuesday.

I'm sorry if this video's a little bit disjointed, the linings of my brain and spinal cord are inflamed, which is pretty uncomfortable.

Okay, so last week I sent out a message saying that I was going to miss my Vlogbrothers video due to hospitalization, and then I went back to being in, like, the worst pain of my life. And then, while I was staring at the ceiling begging for the pain to go away, the internet diagnosed me with Ebola.

Like, "John Green Ebola" was a trending search on Twitter. People I knew in real life texted me and were like, "Do they know what it is yet? Is it confirmed?" Then I was just like "Barf," and I don't mean that figuratively. 

So ten days before getting what turned out to be viral meningitis, I was in Ethiopia, which shares a continent with countries like Guinea and Sierra Leone where there is currently an Ebola outbreak. Now, never mind that Ethiopia is as far from this outbreak as England is from Afghanistan.

I had recently been on the same continent as Ebola, and now I was in the hospital, ergo Ebola. 

Quick side note, Hank, Ebola is a very serious health crisis in West Africa, but more people are going to die of malaria today than have died from Ebola in the last ten years combined.

So, anyway, Hank, when I went to the hospital the doctors were very concerned, I mean, I might have meningitis, or malaria, or typhoid, or dengue fever, all of which can be fatal. But they weren't worried that I had Ebola.

This is my point though, even if I had Ebola it wouldn't have been a big deal! I mean, I guess, it would have been a big deal to me or my family. It wouldn't have been a big deal from a public health perspective. 

Like, here's what the news would have said, "An American has contracted Ebola. Shortly after returning from Africa, Ebola Johnnie went to Orlando, Florida and signed books for sixteen hundred people at a Harry Potter convention, all of whom are now veritably dripping with the disease."

But here's the thing, Hank, if I had somehow magically gotten Ebola in Ethiopia, which, to reiterate, is impossible, I wouldn't have given it to any of those sixteen hundred people at LeakyCon.

For one thing, you aren't contagious if you aren't symptomatic, and also, I didn't share bodily fluids with any of those sixteen hundred people. Call me old fashioned, Hank, but I like to keep bodily fluid sharing within my nuclear family.

Ebola is spreading because it's often being treated in healthcare facilities with no running water or latex gloves, which makes sterilization functionally impossible. Just having water and bleach would prevent a lot of these Ebola cases.

This isn't some terrifying, uncontrollable superbug. There's mounting evidence that there might be treatments or vaccines or both within a year. 

But the most important thing  to remember, Hank, is that this outbreak is happening because of poor health infrastructure. Hank, I think we're obsessed with Ebola partly because it's novel, partly because it's so fatal, but partly because most diseases endemic to the developing world seem Other.

I mean, more than half a million people are going to die of malaria this year, but unlike Ebola, we don't think of malaria as a disease that's "coming for us." Whatever the hell "us" means.

Now, of course, Ebola isn't coming for this vague "us" either. It's not going to spread widely in the U.S. or Europe. But, regardless, when Americans try to make the Ebola outbreak about America, we do a great disservice to ourselves AND to the communities actually affected by this horrible disease.

In Liberia and Guinea and Sierra Leone, health workers have to choose between abandoning their work and putting themselves and their kids at risk for Ebola. And they have to make that choice because of inadequate infrastructure and supplies. 

Addressing THAT problem instead of freaking out about the disease coming to whoever "us" is will actually reduce Ebola transmission. And, in the process, it will also save many, many lives from malaria, and typhoid, and also meningitis. 

Which brings me back to my infected brain lining.

Hank, it turns out that I almost certainly got meningitis, not in Ethiopia, but in Florida. Oh, Orlando, city of my youth, city of my inflamed meninges. 

Hank, it's going to take a little bit for my meninges to completely de-itis. So, I apologize if I'm not around as much in the coming weeks. But, nerdfighters, thank you so much for putting stuff on your heads to cheer me up. It really did the trick when I desperately needed it.

Hank, I'll see you on Friday.