About 30 people planning to attend the tropical medicine conference in New Orleans this week heeded the request of the state Department of Health and Hospitals to stay home over concerns about Ebola.
DHH sent a message to the more than 3,500 people last week who were expected to attend the American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene conference. In the message, DHH asked that people not attend the conference if they had been to a West African country experiencing Ebola in the last three weeks.
Dr. Alan Magill, president of the American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene, said Wednesday the 30 people who stayed away included a member of the World Health Organization. He said the conference lost the opportunity to hear and interact with professionals who have recent, firsthand knowledge of the situation in West Africa by the travel restriction.
Asked if the conference organizers would decide to hold future conferences in the state, Magill said initial reactions have been an emotional “No.”
However, given the timing of the state request, at a time when there was ongoing discussion about a medical provider in New York, Magill said there were many other states that would have reacted the same way as Louisiana.
“The city of New Orleans is always a great place to be. The people are warm and inviting,” he said.
Magill said a decision on the site of future conferences will be made in the coming months.
Dr. Jimmy Guidry, state health officer of Louisiana, said DHH staffed a table at the conference for several days handing out information including a toll-free number people could call if they started to have suspected symptoms of Ebola.
“We feel that most people who were at any risk didn’t attend. They took the letter pretty seriously,” Guidry said Wednesday.
Although it’s true that being able to share firsthand knowledge of the West African outbreak is important, Guidry said, there are many other ways that information can be shared — such as video feeds, emails and more. He said the state offered technological help if it was needed to facilitate the discussion, but the state felt it was important that the participants not attend.
“Imagine if they started getting symptoms, they’d be sharing more than knowledge,” Guidry said.
Although the decision has come under criticism because people aren’t contagious until symptoms appear, Guidry said, the state also has to consider the general public’s concerns.
In general, it’s a balancing act because the public trusts the state is doing everything it can to keep the community safe.
Also Wednesday, Magill and others also talked about current research into Ebola vaccines and treatments. Although both are at very early stages of development right now, the work is taking place at a quicker pace than usual, said Luciano Borio, lead for the Ebola response for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
Follow Amy Wold on Twitter @awold10.