New York City becomes the latest city outside Africa treating an Ebola patient, most of whom are health care workers.  Map via the New York Times

New York City becomes the latest city outside Africa treating an Ebola patient, most of whom are health care workers.

Map via the New York Times

While officials have said they expected isolated cases of the disease to arrive in New York eventually, and had been preparing for this moment for months, the first case highlighted the challenges surrounding containment of the virus, especially in a crowded metropolis. Dr. Spencer had traveled on the A and L subway lines Wednesday night, visited a bowling alley in Williamsburg, then took a taxi back to Manhattan. [New York Times]

THE NEWS media and cable jumped on the story, as New York City public health officials and Mayor Bill de Blasio offered full transparency and public disclosure on Dr. Craig Spencer being “rushed to Bellevue Hospital Center” after becoming symptomatic, then testing positive for Ebola, after returning from treating patients in Guinea.

All New York officials speaking on the subject said New Yorkers should not be alarmed. Yet the visuals contradict the message, which is just one of the challenges in dealing with this deadly disease that is not easily spread. There are now 18 known cases of Ebola outside of Africa.

The issue becomes that the more officials claim there is a very small risk, which is true unless you come into direct contact with someone who’s been exposed to Ebola and eventually becomes symptomatic, the more the noise overtakes the reality of the actual threat.

At some point someone is going to suggest a public quarantine for all returning doctors and health care workers, expecting an entry point at designated health facilities so as to not get story lines that include someone that turns symptomatic with Ebola taking several subway trains, before being isolated.

To say we’re in uncharted territory is an understatement, but it gives people who live in the American bubble an opportunity to take a deep breath and imagine a bioterrorism attack, the most unthinkable event imaginable.

The 21st century is a different landscape than we’ve ever experienced. When you consider our infrastructure, food and water supply vulnerabilities, well, the list is endless, there are many more threats in today’s world than ever before. The expectation that any government or group of public officials can protect us completely, while we remain a free society, is illogical.

When you couple the American news media, partisanship and the void of sober thinking in general from what we see on cable and hear on many radio stations, it makes you wonder whether America’s citizenry is grown up enough to face these challenges and come to grips with dangers we won’t be able to completely keep from our world.

It makes me look to our culture, the shows we watch, the ratcheting up of the fear factor through fantasies that we love. A constant cultural diet of diabolical plots seen in Homeland, but also the cop shows, and now dramas that take everything to extreme, including shows like House of Cards that push our cynicism buttons as we delight in politician villains, it’s all priming us to expect the worst.

The blogosphere is abuzz with speculation that the media has whipped America into a frenzy over these threats of terrorism and pestilence. I certainly don’t want to give the media a pass. But I wonder if a steady diet of TV shows and movies like 24, Homeland, Contagion, White House Down, and, of course, The Following have primed us to make the obvious mistake of worrying overmuch about improbable threats and worrying undermuch about the more probable ones (like global warming). We have been inundated with a set of scripts that explain the world with dazzle and destruction. That’s a tough act to follow for a scientist or a sensible pundit or a responsible journalist. We panic because we’re constantly watching ourselves panic on both the big and little screen. [Huffington Post]

The newest case of Ebola in New York City was announced at the same time when Ebola spread to Mali, the sixth country in Africa.

James Spader has already tackled this type of plot in Blacklist, as has the most watched show in the world NCIS, with Mark Harmon.

Can anyone doubt there will be a “disease detective” drama coming our way at mid-season? Katherine Heigl’s State of Affairs sounds primed for it.