It’s Time For Mother Jones To Stop Fearmongering That HIV Is More Contagious Than Ebola

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Let me fill you in. This morning, Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky (R) gave an interview to Ashley Killough at CNN wherein he stated that Ebola was more contagious than AIDS. That bit of info was transmitted via the internet into a tweet. Here is what it said and he’s clearly referring to HIV here rather than AIDS (maybe brush up on what these things mean, Rand):

Rand Paul tells me Ebola more transmitable than AIDS. “If someone has Ebola at a cocktail party, they’re contagious and you can catch it.”

At 2 in the afternoon, also today, the left-leaning site Mother Jones, which produces lots of quality journalistic products, took issue with Senator Paul’s statement in a kind of insane fit that only mid-term elections can induce. They then broadcast this fit around twitter twice, apparently feeling it wasn’t enough to advertise their willful density a mere one time.

In the piece, linked here and authored by Inae Oh, Mother Jones contends that it isn’t Ebola we should be worrying about, oh no, it’s HIV.

Paul’s posturing is just the latest in a series of Ebola-truthing tactics he and other members of the GOP have been fully employing as of late. Perhaps more seriously, Paul’s theory calls into question the types of feverish, vomit-spewing cocktail soirees he suggests he frequents.

She then goes on to cite Buzzfeed’s own Adam Serwer, the site’s National Editor, who also claims HIV is more contagious than Ebola and provides a citation to an NPR graphic.

The graphic can be found in the original article which was entitled “No, Seriously, How Contagious Is Ebola?” and was published on October the 2nd. It’s also up next. Note the number next to each disease name.

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via NPR.org

That would seem to settle it, right? No, it doesn’t, because HIV and Ebola aren’t spread in the same way. HIV must essentially be injected into a potential victim’s body via sexual contact or actual intake of an infected person’s blood. Ebola can be transmitted through any human body fluid.

Body fluids that may transmit ebolaviruses include saliva, mucus, vomit, feces, sweat, tears, breast milk, urine, and semen. Entry points include the nose, mouth, eyes, or open wounds, cuts and abrasions.

So, yes, Senator Paul is correct. If I have a cut on my hand, an abrasion, and I shake hands with someone who is expressing the symptoms of the disease and they have sweating palms then it is possible for the disease to be transmitted to me. Keep in mind I’m not saying that particular method of transmission is likely (or unlikely for that matter), I’m saying it’s possible. HIV cannot be transmitted this way.

Mother Jones and Buzzfeed’s own National Editor do not understand the graphic they’re reading here. The graphic has to do with how many people the virus spreads to on average but there’s a missing element in the graph that NPR goes out of their way to explain and that element is time.

**The R0 is integrated over the time that a person is infectious to others. For HIV, this could be years. But for Ebola, that time is only about a week. So even though they have similar R0s, Ebola’s infections per unit of time is much higher than HIV’s.

A person with HIV can have HIV for years and, according to the graph, it will take years for them to spread HIV to those four people, on average. But Ebola infects its two subjects in a few days to a week or so and it has far more avenues of communicability than HIV does. Spread out to the same timeline, if a person could live with Ebola as long as a person can live with HIV then Ebola would be the most virulent micro-organism in the history of man. It’s not even a contest and it’s that communicability and lethality that Senator Paul was clearly referring to.

If Ebola didn’t kill its victims in short order it would be fantastically more contagious by the graph’s standard. But, frankly, the graph itself is bad and R0 shouldn’t even be used to compare diseases. The ‘R’ in the graph just refers to the reproductive rate not the communicability.

Although I’ve written repeatedly about Ebola I’d be the first to admit that there’s tons of misinformation out there. I tend to believe that some people really want to get worked up about it and that these people typically have agendas whether that’s to sell ad time or to push an ideological agenda. The threat is overblown, especially on cable news, but it’s a topic that’s absolutely worth watching because it is dangerous.

However, seeking to both downplay Ebola’s lethality and communicability while simultaneously taking a swipe at an ideological opponent is just irresponsible and bad journalism. What’s more, I’m sure that it will be unwelcome news to all those here in America suffering from HIV that they are, in fact, more dangerous to be around than a person displaying the symptoms of an Ebola infection.

Good job, guys. TC mark

featured image – Shutterstock

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