Ebola, Africa, and Our Understanding of Geography

Last week, a plane was detained at Los Angeles Airport because a passenger on the flight was showing flu like symptoms. The passenger admitted to having been in Africa recently, which caused an elevated level of alarm amongst passengers and airline officials. According to a spokesman for the Los Angeles Fire Department, Capt. Jamie Moore, it “turned out that there had been some miscommunication. This person had been to the continent of Africa but not near West Africa. As a matter of a fact, it was South Africa.”

This incident was amusing, given that South Africa is rather far from the affected area in West Africa and has not had a single case of the virus since the outbreak. This story illustrates the level of fear and anxiety that has gripped the US in the past few months. It also reminded me of just how often people misinterpret the size of certain continents and countries. In this case, the size of Africa:

true size of africa

Click image to enlarge

Pretty surprising, right?

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