Reply To: Contagious: Cultures, Carriers, and the Outbreak Narrative

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Angel Scialdone

The introduction to Pricilla Wald’s Contagious: Cultures, Carriers, and the Outbreak Narrative highlights the characteristics and societal response to disease emergence. Outbreak narratives shape attitudes towards disease and can have serious consequences in how a disease is understood (3). Friday’s lecture on the HIV/AIDS epidemic brought Wald’s ideas to life as we discussed how homosexual men were ridiculed and discriminated against during the spread of AIDS. The outbreak narrative of the AIDS epidemic disseminated information that promoted the stigmatization of homosexual men and misconstrued the nature of the disease in the public eye. The disease itself became stigmatized for being related to gay men, but in reality, other groups were at risk as well.

Similar discriminatory mindsets still exist and are revealing themselves amidst the COVID-19 outbreak. Referring to this pandemic as the “Chinese virus” inherently places blame on the Chinese population and encourages racist perceptions of disease outbreaks. Media discusses how people are avoiding Asian restaurants, Asian populated-areas (ex: Chinatown in New York), and Asian-owned businesses essentially due to the outbreak narrative of COVID-19, which emphasizes a baseless Chinese role in disease diffusion. Wald explains how there is a need for more effective, just, and compassionate responses to disease emergence in our world, and I could not agree more seeing current reactions to the coronavirus (3). Not only have we placed blame on the Chinese population for a worldwide outbreak, but many individuals, especially in my generation, are ignorant to the disease and the threat it poses. Younger people believe they are “safe” from the virus, and therefore choose to not socially distance or self-quarantine upon return from a populated spring break vacation. This reaction lacks compassion and consideration because although COVID-19 may be less severe and non-fatal for young adults, they can spread the virus to others who may not have the health, age, or resources to survive the infection. It is imperative we all do our part in both shaping an accurate outbreak narrative and responding to an outbreak in a way that fully considers the consequences of our actions.