At time of writing, there have been seven deaths due to Middle Eastern respiratory disease (MERS) since it was first brought into Korea earlier this month. This is less than a nasty accident on a Johannesburg highway. All of them were elderly, and thus more susceptible to respiratory illnesses. While these deaths are still tragedies, the amount of panic that has resulted from them is ridiculous, and shows the true power of mass hysteria where there is a potentially lethal disease involved.
Over 2000 schools have now been closed across the country, and countries such as Hong Kong have begun to suggest that people adjust their travel plans if they were thinking about traveling to South Korea, and Seoul in particular. All of this because a handful of people have contracted a disease that is new and unknown and has no cure. This last fact in particular seems to be causing a large portion of panic. People like to know that a disease can be cured. Most severe infections aren’t as intimidating, because they can be cured. Sure, the cure may involve horrific processes and drugs with side effects worse than the infection, but there is the light of treatment at the end of the dark tunnel of sickness, and this eases people’s minds. MERS joins the ranks of those enigmatic illnesses that have no cure, and this is terrifying people.
The reason I am not in any way worried about this particular threat is because it is, in all honesty, a very difficult disease to catch. One has to have prolonged exposure to an infected person involving close physical contact and extensive fluid exchange. One cough from someone on the train is less likely to give you MERS than it is to get you pregnant.
In addition, as I have said above, the only people that have currently died from MERS are elderly. Their weakened bodies could not fight off the disease, and the symptoms were more severe due to their age. As a healthy 25-year-old, I am confident that my body, and the body of anyone who is similarly healthy, will be able to fight off MERS.
While I agree that something needed to be done to contain the disease before it spreads throughout the country, it seems like Korea was unprepared for something of this nature, panicked, and overreacted. This is human nature – if something is new, it is most often seen as scary: something to be shunned or poked with a very long stick. Mass media thrives on feeding the terror of the unknown. And, right now, MERS is that unknown to the Korean media, and the panic is spreading far faster than MERS could ever hope to.
MERS has been a double-edged sword for us. While it has meant that we have had a break that will end up being longer than our mid-year vacation, it also forced a beach Ultimate tournament that Kristen and I were both heartily looking forward to to be cancelled. So, we shall continue to keep ourselves out of the hospitals and indoors, spending time with friends and generally enjoying our unexpected break away from the madness of children.