Ebola Outbreak In Africa Causes Hysteria In The US: 5 Unnecessarily Extreme Safety Measures

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Ebola is nearly impossible to contract unless you live or work immediately near someone who has it. If only these people knew that. Reuters

Whenever a new virus or bacteria creeps onto the public health scene, people exhibit their hardwired, kneejerk response of feeling afraid before looking for facts. It’s an easy reaction: Facing a hard truth demands more effort than receding into a cave of ignorance. And Ebola elicits just this response.

Unfortunately, it’s not a helpful response. The outbreak that began in West Africa has made its way to the United States, and even though health officials haven’t officially declared the virus’s presence an “outbreak,” a number of unnecessary, overly cautious measures have been taken to stop the virus’ spread. This is despite the risk of transmission being extremely low, and even less so when the infected person has yet to develop any symptoms.

5. Cruise Ship Gets Stranded

A Carnival Magic cruise ship was denied entrance to Mexico and Belize on Friday, Oct. 17, because a Dallas nurse who handled specimens from an Ebola patient was onboard. The nurse exhibited no symptoms, and after being allowed to exit quarantine after the ship reached a port in Galveston, Texas, was confirmed not to have Ebola.

A typical incubation period for Ebola is 21 days. At the time the worker left the ship, she’d just hit the 19-day mark after safely handling the patient’s blood samples. “Given that this person was at apparently no risk of having an Ebola infection,” said ABC News chief health and medical editor Dr. Richard Besser, “I find the whole episode baffling.”

4. Vomiting Ends In Bathroom Quarantine

American Airlines says the woman asked to stay inside the bathroom. But other passengers recall the incident differently, claiming a woman’s sudden bout of vomiting on the way to the restroom compelled the panic-stricken flight attendants to tell the woman she must remain inside the bathroom. They were scared of Ebola, one passenger said.

"It is a risk that everyone who flies has to take,” said Jack Stelzer, a Houston-based airline consultant, to the Houston Chronicle, “but it is kind of like a one in a billion kind of risk.” The woman was later tested and found not to be infected with the virus.

3. A Dallas Conference And Angry Parents

A Maine teacher was recently put on 21-day paid leave after parents complained to their local school board that the teacher’s recent trip to Dallas had put her at risk for Ebola. The school district responded by saying it did not know of any risks at the time of placing her on leave.

However, Dora Anne Mills, former head of the Maine Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, reaffirmed the science behind transmission to the Portland Press Herald: Ebola doesn’t pose any threat to people just by them flying on airplanes or being at a conference in the same City as an infected patient. “Right now if I had a meeting in Dallas that I needed to take my children to, I would not hesitate,” she said.

2. A Funeral, A Vacation

From Maine to Mississippi, fearful parents again push their children’s school board to take unneeded precautionary steps in the name of safety. In Hazlehurst, Miss., parents recently began taking their kids out of class because the school’s principal, Lee Wannik, had just returned from his brother’s funeral in Zambia.

Zambia is nearly the same distance from Liberia, the nexus of the Ebola outbreak, as Los Angeles is from New York City. Indeed, Wannik’s trip put him farther away from the nearest Ebola cases — a pair of nurses in Dallas — than the kids normally are at home in Mississippi. To alleviate parents’ concern, Wannik has volunteered to take paid leave, which he’s chosen to use as vacation time.

1. African Applicant Gets Rejected

Two Nigerian applicants to the Texas’s Navarro College were denied acceptance not because their grades were sub-par, but because the school had instituted a policy for not accepting any international students from countries with reported cases of Ebola. Dr. Kamo Abidogun told Medical Daily at the time that he felt “disappointed” when his nephew and brother-in-law got their rejection letters.

On Monday, the World Health Organization declared Nigeria “Ebola-free” after six weeks without a new case. Abidogun has already written to Navarro College asking them to reconsider his relatives’ applications, especially given the apparent hypocrisy of allowing American applicants despite the country’s own cases. “If it does not make sense to reject students from America because of Ebola cases that have been reported,” he said, “then they should not reject students from other countries as well.”

The bottom line? Ebola carries a high mortality rate, but it’s nearly impossible to contract in a person’s everyday life. So look up the facts before reacting with fear.

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