Doctors who have treated Ebola patients or traveled to West Africa in the past 21 days were asked Wednesday not to attend the upcoming American Society for Tropical Medicine and Hygiene conference in New Orleans. Among the affected are representatives from the World Health Organization and U.S. Centers for Disease Control, Science Magazine reported.
The Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals disinvited the health care workers from what the society itself describes as "the premier forum for the exchange of scientific advances in tropical medicine and global health." The conference is scheduled for Sunday through Thursday in New Orleans.
"It's very unfortunate and could potentially be counterproductive by preventing health care workers from Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea from sharing their experiences and findings at one of the most important tropical disease meetings globally," Peter Hotez, dean of Baylor College of Medicine's National School of Tropical Medicine, told Science Magazine.
In an email to registrants, the health department references CDC procedure that recommends any worker who cared for Ebola patients in the past 21 days be monitored by an official. Risk assessment is done on a case-by-case basis, but Louisiana relies on self-reporting. Because "the State is committed to preventing any unnecessary exposure of Ebola to the general public," it asked that anyone who had recent contact with an Ebola patient or has recently been to Guinea, Liberia or Sierra Leone self-quarantine for 21 days.
"Given that conference participants with a travel and exposure history for [Ebola] are recommended not to participate in large group 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," read the email.
It finishes with an assurance that the department does not intend to disrespect health care workers with the decision. In fact, they're heroes, according to a statement from the society. It will refund the registration fee for anyone who can't go to the conference as a result of the new rule.
"The Society’s meeting provides us with an opportunity to engage Louisiana, other U.S. states and the global community on some of the health issues we care most about – the tremendous toll of the current outbreak in West Africa, best strategies to safeguard global public health now and in the future, and to raise public awareness of tropical infectious diseases," it reads. "ASTMH firmly believes the single best way to safeguard Americans and the world is to end the epidemic in West Africa with the help of our best-trained, brave men and women."