RICHMOND, Va. -- For several weeks I've been cringing as I watched and read news reports about the - gasp! - EBOLA OUTBREAK. I knew what would follow. We saw it four years ago during the swine flu freakout, which was almost as bad as the classic one in '76. Our panic over SARS this year was a repetition of our last frenzy over that infection.
We've done the same multiple panic attack thing over the avian flu and, back in '95, Ebola. And, sure enough, we were off and running!
Every milestone was reported breathlessly, almost in celebration. The first suspected case here. The first confirmed case here. The first death here. The following cascade of suspicious fevers and sniffles and possible contact.
And viola, near panic. Close the airports. The borders. Isolate. Break out the masks to fight this last boogeyman - the bleeding fever.
Health organizations warn of exponential growth in the infection rate. The World Health Organization is predicting 10,000 new cases a week! (Please remember that prediction and compare it with what occurs.)
During this episode, Ebola has steadily claimed about 4,500 lives in Western Africa, the same part of the world that has battled it before. Yes, it's worse than last time.
It's a tough part of the world to stay healthy, unless you're a virus. There are mosquitoes, bats, rodents and other biting creatures to spread it. Not to mention overcrowding, less-than-perfect sanitation and health care.
Yes, historically viruses have decimated populations from time to time. More often they're airborne. This one is spread through bodily fluids.
Back during the swine flu panic, I predicted on the air that we'd have our fine frenzy, tire of it, then wait for the next American Idol of Viruses winner and do it all over again, completely forgetting how worked up we were the last time.
You could see it call coming. Barack Obama, like presidents before him, is being blamed for this virus du jour. (And why not . . . Obama sounds like Ebola. It must be him!)
We have media outlets stoking the fires (most notably radio talk show alarmist Glenn Beck talking about 1 million Ebola deaths), politicians trying to score points and regular folks looking at their children with fear in their hearts.
And you could also predict the rest of it: that battling the disease by getting help to the poor folks in the hot zone would be way down on our priority list.
Rev. Calvin Birch, with a local Liberian Church here that meets at Hatcher Memorial Church on Dumbarton Road, says the response to the call for help locally hasn't been overwhelming, to say the least.
"I believe the CDC is very right when they say we should take the fight to the Ebola countries," Birch said. "We believe the way to treat patients as well as prevent further spread of this disease is to buy those basic supplies that hospitals need, families need, to fight the Ebola crisis."
You can make your tax-deductible contribution by calling Dean Miller, Director of Global Missions at the Virginia Baptist Mission Board at 804-915-5000.
It's one way to get something out of our latest viral frenzy. Here's my prediction: We will soon tire of our Ebola panic and turn our fretting over to some other seemingly pressing crisis. Then we'll do the next plague-athon like it's never been done before.