The Jindal administration is telling scientists and medical experts who have recently dealt with the Ebola virus to stay away from a national conference that starts Sunday in New Orleans.
American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene, which staging the conference for more than 3,500 people from nearly 100 countries, is urging compliance by its members but criticizing the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals and the Governor’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness.
“While the state of Louisiana’s policies are outside of the scientific understanding of Ebola transmission — and acknowledged by the state health officials’ own admission, we recognize that the state has determined its policy in this matter. ASTMH does not agree with the policy,” ASTMH stated. “These heroes are serving the global good by working in West Africa to end this outbreak and prevent additional death and suffering. The Society firmly believes that policies that hinder the work of healthcare workers are ineffective and counterproductive.”
The group’s leadership volunteered to reimburse members registration fees.
State officials sent a letter to members of the “disinviting” those who have been to the West African countries impacted by the deadly virus in the last three weeks or treated any patients on American soil. The new state public health advisory bans people who have traveled to one of the Ebola stricken countries or cared for people with the virus in the past 21 days from using public transportation or joining large groups. “That’s what the Department of Health and Hospitals felt is the best way to protect our citizens,” said Dr. Jimmy Guidry, state medical director.
The public health advisory is the latest in Jindal administration edicts taken in the wake of the first U.S. death from Ebola — a Liberian national who died at a Dallas hospital.
Guidry said there is no way to know who and how many of the conference registrants fit the banned-from-attendance list. “The organization could not give us that information,” he said.
He said the state is trusting the medical professionals, many of whom specialize in infectious diseases to do the right thing because “they know the risk.”
“I’m telling them the best thing is to come after 21 days to avoid this many people getting together with folks exposed,” said Guidry.
The incubation period from Ebola infection to onset of symptoms is two to 21 days. Humans are not infectious until they develop symptoms.
First symptoms include fever, muscle pain, headache and sore throat followed by vomiting, diarrhoea, rash, symptoms of impaired kidney and liver function, and in some cases, both internal and external bleeding, according to the World Health Organization.
The 63rd annual meeting begins Sunday with an opening address by the co-founder of Microsoft Bill Gates and continues through Thursday. The group’s website describes it as “the premier forum for exchange of scientific advances in tropical medicine and global health.”
An email letter from Society leadership to conference registrants notes the state mandate exceeds recent federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines for “low asymptomatic individuals” who have recently traveled from Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia.
“We regret that some of our attendees may be affected by the state’s travel advisory, and we request your cooperation with the policy,” they wrote, adding that states have legal rights and responsibilities to set their own public health policy “to meet perceived local public health needs and concerns.”
Ebola is considered a tropical disease because it thrives in warm and wet conditions. Some of the conference registrants are Ebola specialists and two symposiums are scheduled on the subject.
Gov. Bobby Jindal earlier ordered state agencies to develop policies covering travel to Ebola stricken countries by their employees, students and faculty. The executive order covered those who travel as a result of educational trips or work-related missions to countries identified by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as having an Ebola epidemic.
Jindal, who has criticized President Barack Obama’s response, had previously urged a national ban on flights from and to the area.
The organization did not get notice of the state policy until Tuesday via a letter from health secretary Kathy Kliebert and emergency preparedness chief Kevin Davis.
“In Louisiana, we love to welcome visitors, but we must balance that hospitality with the protection of Louisiana residents and other visitors,” the administration officials wrote. “We do hope that you will consider a future visit to New Orleans, when we can welcome you appropriately.”
Follow Marsha Shuler on Twitter @MarshaShulerCNB. For more coverage of the state capitol, follow Louisiana Politics at http://blogs.theadvocate.com/politicsblog/