Faculty Sponsor

David Western


Christ College

Presentation Type

Oral Presentation

Symposium Date

Spring 5-4-2017


The 2014 Ebola outbreak shocked the world. In western Africa, the scale of the tragedy was surprising. But equally surprising was the excessively fearful response of the international public to a disease that most public health experts agreed was unlikely to significantly impact countries with strong healthcare infrastructures. This included the United States, where the intensity of fear with which the American public responded was disproportionate to the actual threat. Because the outbreak is still recent, most research into America’s response to Ebola has focused on trying to characterize or quantify the extreme reaction that the epidemic produced, with only speculation as to what caused the fear. This paper will demonstrate that the public’s fear of Ebola had at least one specific cause: the distinctly militarized language that the media used to describe the disease. Because of the media’s use of military terms, the American people were inclined to view Ebola more as a military enemy than a medical one, and they largely reacted with three responses associated with the threat of war: fear, isolationism, and aggression. The public became reluctant to send the aid to Africa that many public health officials agreed was necessary to stop the epidemic. This paper argues that the media’s irresponsible use of military language when discussing the epidemic helped cause the unhelpful mass panic among American citizens, when a humanitarian response characterized by increased aid to the affected countries would have been more effective in controlling the Ebola outbreak and keeping America safe.

Biographical Information about Author(s)

Following a life-long interest in disease that led me to pursue nursing, I chose to research the Ebola epidemic for my Christ College seminar, "Sinful Words." After skimming a few news clips, the military metaphor for Ebola became obvious, and I chose to continue my research and try to determine what effects the language of the epidemic had on America's responses. After college, I hope to use my research to be an advocate for the responsible use of language in a medical setting.