Health

George Will Spreads Misinformation About Ebola on Fox News

CREDIT: AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite

Conservative columnist and pundit George Will

In the weeks since news broke of the first Ebola case in the United States, government officials have stressed that the disease cannot spread through the air, by water, or in food. George Will, however, doesn’t think that’s true.

On Fox News Sunday, the conservative columnist came head to head with his fellow panelists — and even host Chris Wallace — in his attempt to spew misinformation about Ebola.

“The original problem was that you need to have direct contact, meaning with bodily fluids, because it’s not airborne,” Will said. “Now there are doctors saying we’re not so sure that it can’t in some instances be transmitted airborne.”

Will later added: “Well, when you get on an airport perhaps you should clean the armrest and the tray. There are some doctors saying in a sneeze or cough, some of the airborne particles can be infectious.” Neera Tanden, president of the Center for American Progress, appeared on the show alongside Will and immediately challenged his claims. “Where are you getting the doctors who are saying it’s not airborne?” she asked, pointing out that medical experts have repeatedly said that the virus can only be transmitted through close contact with bodily fluids.

Indeed, Will made his comments minutes after Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, assured Wallace that the likelihood of an Ebola epidemic in the United States remains slim, despite the infection of two health care workers who treated patient zero Thomas Eric Duncan.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention agrees. According to the federal agency’s website, humans come into direct contact with Ebola through the blood and bodily fluids of the infected and medical equipment that has been used. Experts say that means that the virus essentially poses the highest risk to health care workers caring for Ebola patients and family members of the infected.

But media fervor and misinformation about how Ebola spreads has spurred anxiety and confusion about the nature of the virus itself.

Schools in Texas and Ohio shuttered shortly after learning that the second infected nurse boarded a plane. Last week, University of Minnesota officials discredited a tweet from its official account that said its researches found that Ebola could spread through the air. Candidates have added fuel to the fire of public paranoia with reckless statements about the virus on the campaign trail. Many businesses have also profited from Ebola anxiety, selling products they claim will provide protection similar to that given to health care workers in hot zones.

In recent days, federal officials have taken extra precautions in the wake of the two new Ebola cases — including the deployment of Ebola SWAT teams to infected areas and the use of hospitals with special isolation units.

But Americans are still anxious about the government’s ability to contain the virus. According to the latest Harvard School of Public Health poll, more than a third of respondents believe that either they or a family member will contract Ebola.