Ebola docs disinvited from New Orleans meeting

The Big Easy is very queasy when it comes to Ebola.

Louisiana's health department is asking health-care workers who treated Ebola victims in West Africa to not attend a New Orleans conference about tropical diseases, among them Ebola.

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The disinvitation could mean that health-care workers who have recent firsthand knowledge of the deadly virus will be unable to share that knowledge in person with colleagues.

Health workers don protective equipment at the Island Clinic in Monrovia, Liberia.
Christopher Black | WHO | Reuters
Health workers don protective equipment at the Island Clinic in Monrovia, Liberia.

A question-and-answer session with "leading Ebola" experts sharing "perspectives from the ground in West Africa" is scheduled for next Wednesday at that conference, the annual meeting of the American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene. The meeting runs from Sunday through Nov. 6 at two New Orleans hotels.

In a letter to conference attendees, the Cajun State cites fears that the general public might be exposed to Ebola during the conference as the reason for its polite-yet-firm request that some of the attendees stay out of Louisiana. That letter raises those concerns even it as it admits that "from a medical perspective, asymptomatic individuals are not at risk of exposing others."

"In Louisiana, we love to welcome visitors, but we my balance that hospitality with the protection of Louisiana residents and other visitors," wrote Health and Hospitals Secretary Kathy Kliebert and state homeland security director Kevin Davis in the letter to conference attendees.

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The letter noted the state has asked anyone who visited or dealt with Ebola patients in the three West African countries hardest hit by the Ebola outbreak to "self-quarantine" for 21 days if they are in Louisiana.

"Individuals who have traveled to and returned from the countries of Sierra Leone, Liberia or Guinea in the past 21 days or had contact with a known [Ebola] patient in that time period should NOT travel to New Orleans to attend the conference," the letter said.

The missive went on to say that given the fact that people with travel or exposure history for Ebola "are not recommended to participate in large settings (such as this conference) or to utilize public transport, we see no utility in you traveling to New Orleans to simply be confined to your room."

Pres. Obama: Ebola will be defeated
Pres. Obama: Ebola will be defeated   

The letter didn't threaten attendees with arrests if they went to the conference and were known to have traveled recently to the three countries.

But an epidemiologist who answered the phone number given in the letter said, "I can only assume that the state health officer would get a court order" compelling compliance with the quarantine request if someone didn't voluntarily comply.

In its own letter sent out to meeting attendees, leaders of the American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene asked people to comply with the health department's request, and said the "vast majority" of attendees would not be affected.

"We understand that the state's mandate exceeds the recent guidelines issued by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on 27 Oct. for low risk asymptomatic individuals with recent travel from Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia," the society's leaders wrote. "Each state within the U.S., however, has legal rights and responsibilities to set its own public health policy to meet perceived local public health needs and concerns."

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"We regret that some of our attendees may be affected by the state's travel advisory and we request your cooperation with the policy," the leaders wrote. "If anyone planning to attend the meeting feels they are in a risk group and decides not to attend, ASTMH will provide full reimbursement for registration."

The society's leaders also noted in their letter that, "We are also pleased that the State Health Officer of Louisiana and his staff have accepted our invitation to attend the meeting, especially some of the cutting edge Ebola symposia."