This Sunday, Nov. 2 marks the date of "the world's premier scientific meeting on tropical diseases," an annual event held by the American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene (ASTMH).
Hosting the meeting in New Orleans this year, ASTMH is a worldwide organization of health professionals focused on the prevention and control of infectious diseases across the globe - especially those which "disproportionately afflict the global poor." Like the tropical disease Ebola - which is the topic of nearly two dozen presentations this year.
In an ironic turn of events, Louisiana state health officials have sent out an email requesting that all meeting registrants who have traveled to the Ebola-ravaged areas of West Africa in the past 21 days, or have treated Ebola patients elsewhere, not attend.
According to ScienceInsider, the emailed letter reads:
"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."
While ASTMH doesn't know exactly how many members will be affected, there are reportedly several scientists whom belong to the World Health Organization (WHO) and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Participants and even event coordinators have expressed their concerns regarding the policy as "fundamentally flawed" and "potentially counterproductive":
"'This policy is fundamentally flawed and not evidence-based,' says Daniel Bausch, a researcher at the Tulane University School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine in New Orleans who is the organizer of one of two specialized Ebola symposia at the meeting. '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,' adds Peter Hotez, dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, Texas."
This move by Louisiana state authorities to impose health security guidelines follows those just witnessed in New York and New Jersey - policies which have been subject to a flurry of heated debate across the broadcast and digital media world.
ScienceInsider argued that "Louisiana's new policy goes further than guidelines from CDC" and that the state is imposing "restrictions that many scientists say make little sense." But, reflecting the perspective of Dr. Jane Orient, Ebola expert and Executive Director of the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons (AAPS), Louisiana state officials feel that it's better safe than sorry.
"From a medical perspective, asymptomatic individuals are not at risk of exposing others," they write. "These precautions are being taken out of an abundance of caution for the current situation, and certainly do not reflect a lack of appreciation for your service and sacrifice in efforts to treat and end the [Ebola] epidemic."
The letter concluded, "We do hope that you will consider a future visit to New Orleans, when we can welcome you appropriately."