As ScienceInsider reported yesterday, the state of Louisiana has told researchers to stay away from the world's biggest tropical medicine meeting next week if they have been in contact with Ebola patients in the past 21 days—or even if they've just visited Liberia, Guinea, or Sierra Leone, the three nations where the epidemic is raging. Many scientists object to the policy; the American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene (ASTMH), which organizes the event, disagrees but accepts Louisiana's decision, says incoming president Christopher Plowe.
But Ebola is a hot topic at many special sessions and late breakers these days. Are scientists who may have been exposed to the virus still welcome at other infectious diseases meetings? Here's a quick sample.
People returning from West Africa are definitely expected, and are welcome, at the European Scientific Conference on Applied Infectious Diseases Epidemiology, held next week in Stockholm. Sweden currently does not have travel restrictions for people coming from affected countries, says a representative for the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC), which organizes the event.
As it happens, ECDC itself recently issued a technical note with recommendations for organizers of gatherings in the European Union where people exposed to Ebola may show up. The document doesn't recommend barring healthy people but says meeting organizers should make a risk analysis, connect with local health authorities, and prepare for possible Ebola cases. ECDC is abiding by its own advice: At the Stockholm meeting, "all participants will receive an information sheet with advice on what to do if they have been exposed to Ebola within the past 21 days and develop symptoms during the conference; a dedicated room has been identified for isolation purposes," the representative writes in an e-mail to ScienceInsider. "The Swedish health helpline is also provided on the information sheet."
Travel restrictions won't be a problem either at the International Meeting on Emerging Diseases and Surveillance (IMED), which starts in Vienna tomorrow. Austrian authorities have not put any travel restrictions in place; the country's health minister, Sabine Oberhauser, will open the conference, so the government is definitely aware of the issue, says Larry Madoff, a staffer of the Boston area–based International Society for Infectious Diseases, which organizes IMED. (Among the speakers at IMED is Hilde de Clerck, the Ebola coordinator for Doctors Without Borders in Belgium; it's not clear if she has been in West Africa the past 3 weeks, Madoff says.)
The same state policy that is hampering the ASTMH meeting will, however, have an impact on the annual conference of the American Public Health Association (APHA), which will bring some 13,000 to 14,000 people to New Orleans from 15 through 19 November. "I can assure you there will be people who will be affected by this policy," says APHA Executive Director Georges Benjamin; he can't predict how many. Like ASTMH, APHA has been in close contact with Louisiana health officials, and although it "vigorously disagrees" with the state's policies, it will respect them, Benjamin says.
What perhaps troubles APHA most, Benjamin says, is that from a public health point of view, Louisiana is focusing on the wrong problem. "I understand their concern about this particular health threat, but it's extraordinarily low," Benjamin says. "We think the threat of not having health coverage, and the issues around safety and violence and environmental health, far exceed any concern they may have about Ebola. We need them to focus on those other issues as well."
*The Ebola Files: Given the current Ebola outbreak, unprecedented in terms of number of people killed and rapid geographic spread, Science and Science Translational Medicine have made a collection of research and news articles on the viral disease freely available to researchers and the general public.