By now, it’s well known that there are a limited number of ways you can contract Ebola: from the blood, sweat, saliva or other bodily fluids of someone who already is ill with the disease.
There are many more ways you can’t get Ebola: by meeting someone who has recently spent time in West Africa, for example, or sitting through a lecture about Ebola. You can’t even get Ebola if someone with Ebola happens to be near you. To become infected, you’d have to be exposed directly to their bodily fluids.
Yet in the past week, organizations have begun to crack down on events featuring West Africans or those who have returned from a trip to West Africa. The panic surrounding Ebola, a disease about which we actually know a fair amount, has led to some decisions that incorporate very little of that knowledge. Here are four:
Fencers Are En Garde When It Comes To Senegal Tournament
Dakar, the capital of Senegal, was scheduled to host a men’s sabre fencing World Cup event at the end of October, but the sport’s governing body canceled the event on Wednesday. Why? Senegal borders Guinea, one of three West African countries hit hard by Ebola. Senegal saw just one Ebola case in August. Health officials contained the patient and those with whom he had contact, and no further cases were identified.
According to News Agency Nigeria, the decision to cancel the event has not been met with much opposition. The German Fencing Federation’s director of sports, Sven Ressel, told reporters that the decision “absolutely makes sense. Precautionary measures are being taken.” Meanwhile, the World Health Organization today declared Senegal Ebola-free since the country has gone 42 days, or double the incubation period, without a new case.
The University of Georgia shuns a top Liberian journalist
The University of Georgia’s Grady School of Journalism and Department of Tropical and Emerging Global Diseases invited Wade Williams to campus for an October 23 talk titled “Eyewitness to Ebola: A Liberian Journalist’s Perspective.” Williams is the chief of the news desk at Front Page Africa and one of Liberia’s top journalists. She was also going to be honored for “her journalistic courage” by the Grady School, according to a university press release.
Students and administrators expressed concern since Williams would be coming directly from Liberia to deliver the talk without waiting for the 21-day Ebola incubation period. So her visit has been postponed until the outbreak subsides. Washington Post journalist Todd Frankel will take her place. He returned from Sierra Leone at the beginning of September. The talk has been renamed “Eyewitness to Ebola: A Journalist’s Perspective.”
Case Western Reserve knows better than former CDC Director
The chief health editor for ABC News, Dr. Richard Besser, was scheduled to speak at Cleveland’s Case Western Reserve University on Wednesday, addressing the need for good communication during health crises. He is particularly well-suited to deliver this talk: he served as acting director for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention during the 2009 H1N1 flu outbreak and visited West Africa at the end of September to report on the Ebola outbreak.
The latter qualification proved problematic for the organizers of the talk. In an op-ed that Besser wrote for the Washington Post, he quoted a letter they sent disinviting him: “Although we understand how small the risk is, we felt that we needed to err on the side of extreme caution because we don’t have the ability to ask all potential attendees if they feel comfortable with the situation.”
Besser was asked to deliver the talk over Skype but he declined, not wanting to “feed the idea that anyone who has been to West Africa, even if not sick, poses a risk.”
Syracuse University disinvites a post-quarantine journalist
Syracuse invited Pulitzer Prize-winning photojournalist Michel du Cille to participate in its fall workshop for journalism students this weekend. Du Cille has a lot of real-world experience to share with these young minds: three weeks ago, he returned from a trip to Liberia, where he covered Ebola for the Washington Post. On Oct. 17, he passed the 21-day Ebola incubation period without showing any symptoms. Two days earlier, he met with Dr. Thomas Frieden, the CDC director, and spent a day photographing him as he testified in front of Congress.
What’s good enough for Capitol Hill isn’t quite good enough for Syracuse. Citing concerns about student health, the university disinvited du Cille and his wife, photojournalist Nikki Kahn, who had not been to Liberia. The dean of the Newhouse School of Public Communication, Lorraine Branham, expressed misgivings about du Cille being on campus on the 17th, the day his quarantine expired. In an interview with News Photographer magazine, she said, “Twenty-one days is the CDC’s standard, but there have been questions raised about whether the incubation period is longer.” In fact it’s well acknowledged that 21 days is the standard.
“If they’re not showing any symptoms and they’re out of their incubation period they are not a threat to anyone around them,” says Dr. Nahid Bhadelia, director of infection control at the National Emerging Infectious Diseases Laboratory at Boston University. And what about those who seem to think a person could be contagious even beyond that time? “By taking that stance,” Bhadelia says, “you are actually leading to further public confusion and miseducation.”