I traveled to Washington, D.C. this weekend for a work meeting. All my friends and family warned me to bring lots of hand sanitizer, to consider wearing a mask, to avoid touching any bodily fluids, to avoid flying through Dallas and to be on high alert for Ebola. When you travel, you spend more time than normal on your social media. You never check your feeds during important business meetings underneath the table (shout out to my bosses)but during breaks, flights, lonely nights in hotel rooms, etc you definetely have time to check IG, Twitter, Facebook and roam the internet. I saw a few pictures of kids at pumpkin patches and the usual but most of my feed was clogged all weekend with #Ebola. Twitter has #ebola trending at 1.3 million tweets. Who doesn’t know the nurse named Nina that has Ebola? (hint:it isn’t me) One of NPR’s stories got me thinking. It was titled “Why won’t the Fear Of Airborne Ebola Go Away?”. It talked about how many experts and officials have said Ebola isn’t airborne and the chance of the virus mutating to be able to travel airborne is less than 1% and no matter how many times the experts express this people are still suggesting stopping air travel and extreme quarantines and worse. This particular article seemed to think it was because of the media. It’s quite the debate on some of my friends social media feeds, what we should be doing about Ebola in the US.
While contemplating in my mind why people have such a fear for Ebola I wondered to myself “Why don’t people fear Melanoma?”. So often I have patients tell me they are going to keep getting in the tanning bed even after I express all the harm UV rays can do to the skin. I have had people go as far to say, and I quote , “guess I will just die of cancer because I’m not going to stop tanning!”. It seems so absurd to think my community has multiple tanning beds available yet are so fearful of Ebola. Why? How do we choose what we fear for our health? Do we go by what the experts tell us? No that can’t be it because I think dermatologist are the experts of skin and people often go against that advise. The CDC officials are the experts on infectious disease yet people don’t seem convinced that Ebola is not airborne no matter how many times they state that fact. Is it research and science? Nope. According to the CDC one person has died in America due to Ebola. CDC says, in the past decade, the United States had 5 imported cases of Viral Hemorrhagic Fever (VHF) diseases similar to Ebola (1 Marburg, 4 Lassa).None resulted in any transmission in the United States. According to the American Cancer Society five-year survival rates for distant stage melanomas (melanoma that has spread to lymph/distant organs) is 16%. According to the American Academy of dermatology it is estimated that by 2015, 1 in 50 Americans will develop melanoma in their lifetime. So according to the stats we should be fearing melanoma before Ebola, right? So why is Ebola so feared and melanoma taken so lightly in our society? Is it the spin media puts on Ebola and rarely mentions melanoma? Is it majority rules? Meaning most people fear an outbreak and don’t fear a tan that increases the risk of melanoma? Is it how we were raised? Patients often tell me “when I was young we didn’t know to wear sunscreen” did this non-concern as children wear off on us? Were we raised to believe infectious diseases are some of the worst by Mom telling us to cover our mouth when we cough, wash our hands, put our jacket on before we catch a cold? I don’t know why but currently in our society there are 1.3 million people talking about Ebola on Twitter and not even a fraction of that talking about melanoma.
I think people that fear an Ebola outbreak in the United States could be compared to people that fear the end of the world. You know that person that thinks the world is coming to an end and builds their house on the highest point in town and stores enough water and food for a year, puts bars on the windows and is ready for the end of world or a zombie apocalypse. We “normal” people think it’s overkill. We might even call that person a little weird. But if the zombie apocalypse came tomorrow or the world came to its end, then that would be your smartest neighbor. Everyone would wish they had prepared for the end of the world. The person that refuses to fly, wears a mask everywhere and doesn’t touch the buggie at wal-mart sure would look smart if there was an Ebola outbreak tomorrow. Luckily for us, statistically speaking, the Ebola outbreak won’t be here in the U.S. tomorrow and neither will the world come to an end.
Melanoma is already here, and it has killed a lot more than one American. So this post isn’t to convince you to chill out about Ebola. It isn’t to scare your pants off about Melanoma (well it kinda is). But I do hope it makes you think about your health. I hope it makes you think about the source of information you trust and make decisions about your health. Do you follow the guidance of an expert in healthcare or a commercial during your favorite TV show? My hope and prayer for you is that you let there be enough anxiety in you about heart disease that you work out and eat healthy, that you have enough fear of lung disease to not smoke cigarettes and of course that you be frightened enough of melanoma to be sun smart.
Until next week, stay healthy and always skintastic, Nina
P.S. If you have any ideas on how I could make #melanoma hit more than 1.3 million tweets and bring awareness to America just let me know!