Monday 23 April 2018

Ebola doctor attacks 'scaremongers'

New York's first Ebola patient Dr Craig Spencer has blamed the press and politicians for spreading fear about his condition (AP)
New York's first Ebola patient Dr Craig Spencer has blamed the press and politicians for spreading fear about his condition (AP)

A doctor who contracted the deadly Ebola virus but travelled on New York's tube system and ate out before he recovered has accused politicians and the media of scaring the public instead of educating people on the science of the disease.

Emergency room medic Craig Spencer was diagnosed with Ebola on October 23, days after returning from treating patients in Guinea with Doctors Without Borders.

It was the first Ebola case in New York, spurring an effort to contain anxieties along with the virus.

"When we look back on this epidemic, I hope we'll recognise that fear caused our initial hesitance to respond - and caused us to respond poorly when we finally did," Dr Spencer said in The New England Journal of Medicine.

News of Dr Spencer's infection unnerved New York residents, particularly after they learned that he travelled on the subway, dined out and went bowling in the days before he developed a fever and tested positive.

But Dr Spencer said little attention was devoted to the fact the science of disease transmission and the experience of previous Ebola outbreaks suggested it was "nearly impossible for me to have transmitted the virus before I had a fever".

"Meanwhile, politicians, caught up in the election season, took advantage of the panic to try to appear presidential instead of supporting a sound, science-based public health response," he said.

After Dr Spencer's diagnosis, New York governor Andrew Cuomo and New Jersey counterpart Chris Christie announced mandatory 21-day quarantines for travellers who were in close contact with Ebola, which has infected more than 14,000 people in west Africa and has killed more than 5,000.

Mr Cuomo and Mr Christie called national health guidelines inadequate when they announced their quarantine plans, but, Dr Spencer said, did not "sufficiently consider the unintended side-effects".

The threat of quarantine may cause sick people to defer seeking treatment or cause health care workers returning from affected countries to "alter their travel plans or misreport their exposure to avoid quarantine" said Dr Spencer, whose treatment included a transfusion of blood plasma from another Ebola survivor.

"We all lose when we allow irrational fear, fuelled in part by prime-time ratings and political expediency, to supersede pragmatic public health preparedness."

Press Association

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