Louisiana’s Message to Top Ebola Reseachers? Stay Away.

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Louisiana has a message for many of the scientists and medical experts studying Ebola and aiding efforts to fight the deadly virus in West Africa -- stay away.

The state sent a letter to members of the American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene, which is holding its annual conference in New Orleans next week. If they’ve recently been to any of the West African countries where the virus has infected more than 13,000 people, they shouldn’t attend the meeting.

“We do hope that you will consider a future visit to New Orleans, when we can welcome you appropriately,” said Kathy Klieber, Louisiana’s Secretary of Health & Hospitals and Kevin Davis, director of the Office of Homeland Security & Emergency Preparedness, in the Oct. 28 letter.

The society of researchers, medical professionals and scientists dates back more than a century, according to its website, and has members around the world.

The letter disinvites any registrants who’ve cared for people with Ebola in the last three weeks. “In Louisiana, we love to welcome visitors, but we must balance that hospitality with the protection of Louisiana residents and other visitors,” the state officials said.

There are 3,588 people registered to attend the meeting, though the society doesn’t know how many have recently been in Liberia, Guinea or Sierra Leone, where the outbreak is located.

“We regret that some of our attendees may be affected by the state’s travel advisory and we request your cooperation,” the medical group said in a letter to members.

Not Based on Science

Current U.S. policy suggests that people who’ve cared for Ebola patients but haven’t been exposed to the virus monitor themselves for three weeks. The White House has said that mandatory quarantines of health workers from outbreak zones, such as those implemented by New York and New Jersey, aren’t based on science and may discourage relief workers from volunteering.

President Barack Obama said, for the second day in a row, that travel bans and quarantines won’t stop Ebola, and that the U.S. needs to encourage health workers and researchers to fight the disease at its source. Obama appeared at the White House yesterday with health workers who had returned from the region, and the administration has attempted to push back against a patchwork of state policies on the virus.

Confined to Room

Louisiana’s decision was made to “address concerns regarding the possible importation of Ebola virus,” the state officials said in the letter. The state has instituted a policy that prohibits people who have traveled to West Africa or cared for people with virus in the past 21 days from using public transportation or joining large groups.

The state said it can’t effectively assess the risk of people who’ve been in the countries. “We see no utility in you traveling to New Orleans to simply be confined to your room,” the officials said in the letter.

Tropical diseases thrive in warm, wet, rural conditions that often have poor sanitation, said Robert Garry, a virologist at Tulane University in New Orleans. Ebola is considered a tropical disease, said Garry, who said he received the letter and may attend the meeting.

“We want people to be able to come back from these regions and discuss and share what they’ve learned,” Garry said in a telephone interview. “That’s what these meetings are all about.”

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