A Lesson on Ebola

This lesson provides factual information to students about Ebola.  Providing accurate information about the disease may help prevent misinformed students from targeting classmates who are from Africa (or thought to be from Africa), which has happened in some schools.  If students have been targeted at your school because of Ebola fears, please see these guidelines and resources for addressing this challenge.

Note to teacher:   

This lesson provides factual information to students about Ebola.  Providing accurate information about the disease may help prevent misinformed students from targeting classmates who are from Africa (or thought to be from Africa), which has happened in some schools.  If students have been targeted at your school because of Ebola fears, please see these guidelines and resources for addressing this challenge.


In a go round, ask students to share one thing they’ve heard about Ebola in recent months.  Chart what students share, by writing Ebola in the center of the chart or board, then writing student associations around it in one color.  Ask students to try to limit their associations to a few words where possible and or summarize what they say as you chart it.  
In a second go round, ask students to share how they’re feeling about the recent cases of Ebola in the U.S.  In a different color, chart the feeling words around the outside of what is already on the chart.  
In a third and final go round ask students to share how they think people in the five West African countries mainly affected by Ebola are feeling.  Chart these feelings words, in a third color, on the outside of the chart.  
Ask students to take a look at the chart.  What do they notice?  Using the words on the chart, invite a volunteer to share what Ebola is and what’s happened recently with the disease.  Ask other volunteers to add what they know.  
Next, invite students to share any questions they may have about the disease and its spread in West Africa and beyond.  Chart these too and let students know that you’ll be returning to these questions by the end of today’s lesson.  



What is Ebola?
Elicit and explain that according to the Center for Disease Control (CDC)
Ebola ... is a rare and deadly disease caused by infection ... Ebola can cause disease in humans and ... monkeys, gorillas, and chimpanzees. ...  Ebola was first discovered in 1976 near the Ebola River in what is now the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Since then, outbreaks have appeared sporadically in Africa. 
How does Ebola spread?
Elicit and explain that according to an article in the Guardian newspaper:
Ebola is a horrific disease that kills more than half of people infected by it, though with specialist western treatment that death rate would likely fall a little. It’s unsurprising that the prospect of catching it is a scary one. The relief is that it’s not all that infectious: direct contact with bodily fluids of a visibly infected person is required, meaning that, compared with many illnesses, it’s easily contained.
What has made this outbreak different from others?  
Elicit and explain that Ebola has been all over the news in recent months.  This may be in part because the most recent outbreak of the disease has been unprecedented in its death toll (currently in the thousands) across national borders in West Africa and the impact on health care workers.  
According to the World Health Organization (WHO):  In many cases, medical staff are at risk because no protective equipment is available - not even gloves and face masks. Even in dedicated Ebola wards, personal protective equipment is often scarce or not being properly used.  [As a result,] Ebola has taken the lives of prominent doctors in Sierra Leone and Liberia, depriving these countries not only of experienced and dedicated medical care but also of inspiring national heroes. 
But reporting of this most recent outbreak has been different too.  Earlier outbreaks of Ebola in countries such as Congo, Sudan, Uganda and Gabon were barely given attention in the U.S. media, despite the fact that they were equally deadly to the people infected by the disease.   As the Washington Post noted, "In an ideal world, America's Ebola panic will come with a silver lining: a recognition that Ebola is a truly global problem, and protecting the health of Americans will probably start by saving the lives of thousands of people in West Africa."  
The first person to have returned to the U.S. with Ebola from Liberia, died in Dallas on October 8, 2014. Since then, social media and the 24-hour news cycle have kicked into high gear.  They have helped feed a fear and panic, associating Ebola using words like "epidemic" "crisis" and "hysteria" rather than focusing on the fact that, though deadly, there is no Ebola "epidemic" in the U.S. Politicians across the political spectrum, moreover, have tried to use the public’s fear of Ebola to their advantage in advance of the upcoming mid-term elections.  
What would it take to stop Ebola?
Invite volunteers to take turns reading  Handout 1 out loud. Have each student read up to one paragraph.  If you have access to computers or a smart board, also show the video below the article.  Next, discuss some or all of the following questions as a full group:
  • What are your thoughts and feelings about the article and/or video clip?
  • Is there anything new you’ve learned about Ebola so far?
  • How was Nigeria able to contain the virus?
  • What does that tell us about Ebola?

Small Group Work:
Why is there panic in the U.S.?

Split your class into small groups of four to five students.  Provide some of the groups with Handout 2, a segment from a New York Times article on media and Ebola.  Give other groups Handout 3, an excerpt from a Washington Post article on Ebola as the latest political football.  (Note: For additional materials, see the links below.) 
Provide each group with around 7 minutes of reading time then another 7 minutes of small-group discussion time based on the questions at the bottom of the segment. 
After 15 minutes bring the group back together. Ask representatives from each small group to respond to the following:
  • What was the main point the author was trying to make?
  • Give an illustration of this main point with an example from the article.  


Go back to the questions you created earlier today.  See if any of them have been answered by today’s lesson.  Consider assigning students to research any unanswered questions for homework.  
Next, go back to the web you created earlier today.  Ask students if, based on today’s lesson, they feel they’d like to add anything else to the web.  


According to ABC Australia Plus: "Three of West Africa's poorest countries have so far borne the brunt of the [Ebola outbreak] ..., with 862 deaths in Guinea, 2,484 deaths in Liberia, and 1,200 in Sierra Leone."
Nigeria, a neighboring country in West Africa, was also affected by this most recent outbreak of Ebola. But Nigeria was able to contain the virus.  Despite the fact that the disease was brought into Nigeria’s crowded capital, Lagos, over the summer, only 10 people died in the end.  This compares to the thousands who have contracted the disease elsewhere.  Why did events unfold so differently in Nigeria?  
Nigeria was declared free of the Ebola virus in late October 2014, "after a determined doctor and thousands of officials and volunteers helped end an outbreak still ravaging other parts of West Africa and threatening the United States and Spain," according to Reuters. 
Nigeria had been "caught unaware" when a diplomat arrived with the disease from Liberia.  But Nigerian authorities were alerted to the case by Doctor Ameyo Adadevoh, who kept the diplomat in the hospital despite protests from him and his government. The doctor later died from Ebola herself.
Then the Nigerian government "set about trying to contain [Ebola] in an overcrowded city of 21 million."  Nigeria kept the disease from spreading by identifying and isolating about 300 people who had been in direct or indirect contact with the diplomat.
"This is a spectacular success story," said Rui Gama Vaz from the World Health Organization.  Officials broke into applause when he announced that Nigeria had shaken off the disease.
"It shows that Ebola can be contained, but we must be clear that we have only won a battle, the war will only end when West Africa is also declared free of Ebola."


In the month since a Liberian man infected with Ebola traveled to Dallas, where he later died, the nation has marinated in a murky soup of understandable concern, wild misinformation, political opportunism and garden-variety panic. ...
A crowd of parents last week pulled their children out of a Mississippi middle school after learning that its principal had traveled to Zambia, an African nation untouched by the disease. ...
Carolyn Smith of Louisville, Ky., last week took a rare break from sequestering herself at home to take her fiancé to a doctor’s appointment. She said she was reluctant to leave her house after hearing that a nurse from the Dallas hospital had flown to Cleveland, over 300 miles from her home. "We’re not really going anywhere if we can help it," Ms. Smith, 50, said. ...
"This is sort of comparable to when people were killed in terror attacks," said Roxane Cohen Silver, a professor of psychology in the department of psychology and social behavior at the University of California, Irvine.
Ms. Silver studied and wrote about people who heavily consumed media after the bombings at the Boston Marathon in 2013 and "what we found is that individuals who were exposed to a great deal of media within the first week reported more acute stress than did people who were actually at the marathon."
In his work on panic in various disasters, Anthony Mawson, a visiting professor in the School of Health Sciences at Jackson State University in Mississippi, found that while physical danger is presumed to lead to mass panic, in actual physical emergencies "expressions of mutual aid are common and often predominate." But the threat of an illness that has infected only two people in the United States appears to have had the opposite effect, inciting a widespread desire to hide and shut things down.
"Obviously there’s fear," said Dr. Anthony Fauci, the Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, in an interview Sunday on ABC. He said fear of the disease is dramatically outstripping current risks. ...
Discussion Questions:
  • Discuss your thoughts and feelings about the article. 
  • What are some of the "garden-variety panic responses" the article refers to?
  • What does professor of psychology Roxane Cohen Silver say is the reason for some of these responses?
  • What does she say about how heavy media consumption affects people during disasters?
  • What is the main point the author is trying to get across?


It's just weeks before the midterm elections, and the deadliest Ebola outbreak in history has become the latest political football. Americans' risk of infection is still very, very low, but fears of the disease are increasing amid some apparent missteps by the federal government and the Texas hospital where the three U.S. Ebola cases emerged.
Republicans are criticizing the Obama administration for not doing more to keep Ebola from this country. Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal was among the first in his party to call for a travel ban. Meanwhile, some on the left have blamed Republican-backed funding cuts for the lack of an Ebola vaccine.
How people view the federal government's handling of a public health crisis often depends on which party controls the White House ...  We've seen this pattern before with past health scares.  In 2009, the Obama administration was criticized by Democrats and Republicans for its handling of the swine flu outbreak after reports emerged that Wall Street firms were improperly getting first dibs on vaccines. Opponents of Obama's proposed health reform bill brought this up during the debate in Congress, arguing that the apparent mismanagement of the vaccine program raised doubts about the government's ability to take a greater role in the health-care system.
Ahead of the 2002 mid-term elections, Democrats attacked the Bush administration's response to the 2001 anthrax attacks. And some Democrats accused the administration of using the anthrax scare to build its case for the Iraq war.
So, when fears of a public health outbreak emerge, who should we turn to for reason and calm? For starters, we could all listen to Fox News' Shepard Smith, who put the Ebola risk into proper context Wednesday night. "Do not listen to the hysterical voices on the radio and the television or read the fear-provoking words online," Smith said in his broadcast.  He added this observation: "In the middle of all this, you have to remember that there is politics in the mix," he said. "With the midterm elections coming, the party in charge needs to appear to be effectively leading. The party out of power needs to show there is a lack of leadership."
And those are your Ebola politics in a nutshell. 
Discussion Questions:
  • Discuss your thoughts and feelings about the article. 
  • What do you think the author means by "Ebola has become the latest political football"?  Who is criticizing whom and for what reason?
  • Why does the author quote Fox News’ Shepard Smith?
  • What does Shepard say about the fear and hysteria around the Ebola outbreak?
  • What do you think the use of the word hysteria indicates?
  • What is the main point the author is trying to get across?

Additional materials: