The Perils of Panic: Ebola, HIV, and the Intersection of Global Health and Law

Am J Law Med. 2016 May;42(2-3):223-255. doi: 10.1177/0098858816658269.


This Article explores the connections between emerging infectious diseases, domestic disease panics, global health, and the law by comparing the American response to Ebola to the initial American response to the AIDS epidemic. We demonstrate that in both cases the arrival of a new deadly disease was initially met with fear, stigma and the use of law to "other" those associated with the disease. We begin by reviewing the initial responses to the AIDS epidemic. We then offer a brief history of emerging infectious disease scares over the past few decades, highlighting the problematic rhetoric that paved the way for the Ebola panic. We then review the 2014 Ebola outbreak, noting its similarities and distinctions from the early AIDS epidemic. Finally, we examine United States policies regarding HIV and Ebola in Africa. We conclude with some tentative observations about the relationship between germ panics, law, and public health.

MeSH terms

  • Disease Outbreaks / prevention & control
  • Fear
  • Global Health*
  • HIV Infections / epidemiology*
  • HIV Infections / prevention & control
  • Health Policy / legislation & jurisprudence
  • Hemorrhagic Fever, Ebola / epidemiology*
  • Hemorrhagic Fever, Ebola / prevention & control
  • Humans
  • Public Health
  • Travel / legislation & jurisprudence
  • United States