By Dr. Jerome Adams, M.D., M.P.H.
There's an old proverb about a man who repeated gossip to several people and then later found out it wasn't true. After, he went to the town elder to seek repentance. The elder told the man to rip open a feather pillow and spread it around town. The next day, the elder instructed the man to go back and collect all of the feathers. But that's impossible, the man said, the wind will have carried them away. So it is with gossip, the elder replied, it is easily spread, but once the damage has been done it can never fully be taken back.
How appropriate this parable is to the Ebola situation we are facing today. Myths about the way Ebola is transmitted and the risk it poses are being perpetuated by seemingly reputable sources. These myths contribute to public anxiety and fear, which have led to schools closing, student applications being denied and travelers being stigmatized, not to mention a great deal of worry and angst.
At the State Health Department, we are working around the clock to ensure that Indiana is prepared and that you are provided with accurate and timely information about the developing Ebola situation. We have expanded our Ebola Call Center hours so that you can speak with a health representative about your Ebola questions and concerns, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. We are in constant contact with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as well as other states, to get the latest information, which we then share with you as quickly as we can.
Despite these efforts, myths about Ebola persist. I’d like to take a minute to address the top three myths that keep cropping up.
MYTH: Ebola is, or will become, airborne.
FACT: Ebola is not spread through the air and scientists who study viruses believe there is minimal chance it will become airborne. Ebola can only be spread by coming into contact with bodily fluids of someone actively displaying symptoms of the virus or by touching the body of someone who has died from Ebola.
MYTH: Anyone who has traveled outside of the U.S. could have Ebola, especially anyone coming from Africa.
FACT: A large outbreak of Ebola is now occurring in the West African countries of Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia. At this, time, only individuals who have traveled to these three countries and had contact with an Ebola patient within the last 21 days are considered to be at risk.
MYTH: The CDC and government officials are not being honest with the public about the risk.
FACT: The CDC has been responding to outbreaks of Ebola in Africa since 1976. They have more experience than anyone in tracking, treating and containing this disease. The State Health Department is in constant contact with the CDC and other states about the Ebola situation in the U.S. and globally. Together with the CDC and numerous State partners, we strive to provide the most up-to-date information in a timely manner. While there have been missteps, responding to Ebola in the U.S. is a new experience and we are all learning and working together to prevent the ongoing introduction and spread of this terrible virus in the U.S.
I encourage Hoosiers to get the facts about Ebola by visiting the State Health Department website or by calling the Ebola Call Center at (877) 826-0011 or (888) 561-0044 for the hearing impaired. We don’t have to be like the man in the parable. Let us instead share information we know to be true so that our communities can make informed decisions and we don’t have to collect the feathers later.
Dr. Jerome Adams was named Indiana’s State Health Commissioner by Gov. Mike Pence Oct. 22, 2014.