Ebola in the Wilderness

December 11, 2014

Yup. You read that right.

It was bound to happen.

With all the hullabaloo in the media about the risk of Ebola taking hold in the US “homeland”, it was only a matter of time before some started fretting about a participant in an organized camping program or wilderness trek developing the disease.

Over the past few weeks, I have had emailed questions, participated in a discussion regarding the agenda at an upcoming outdoor education meeting, and attended a council meeting–all of which involved the question of whether outdoor education programs should have contingency plans for Ebola.

Gimme a break!

There is no questioning the fact that Ebola is a monumental crisis, a health problem of unimaginable severity with the potential for destabilizing a huge part of Africa. Its victims die horrible deaths.

Having said that, Ebola will never be anything more than a blip on the screen of health problems in developed areas such as the US. Its spread depends upon living conditions, health care practices, and severe poverty. As the past few months have shown, despite some well-publicized imported cases, the disease simply has not taken hold–exactly as the experts (decried by politicians, of course) predicted. I wrote a piece about this in the Syracuse newspaper:


There are plenty of things to worry about regarding Ebola, but someone coming down with it in a tent in the North American backcountry is not one.

As much as I would like simply to laugh this off, there are two things about this which really bother me.

The first is the pitifully narcissistic way in which we look at threats. Rather than worrying about the fate of hundreds of thousands of unfortunates living in daily fear of this disease, we argue about how it should be handled in US airports. Rather than aiding local health care workers in areas which are dealing with Ebola every day, we corner the market on protective gear to be stored in hundreds of American hospitals which will never see a case. “Just in case.”

The second is a theme which runs through a lot of my writings on wilderness health and safety. What is it that seems to cause some wilderness educators to become infatuated with “problems’ which are either nonexistent or trivial (wilderness water quality, Ebola), while ignoring issues of demonstrably greater importance (immunizations, hand sanitation)?

Go figure.