The Ebola virus seems to be a buzzword synonymous with fear and dread among the general populace. But is that fear really warranted?
Adelphi University hosted Ebola and Beyond: Are We Ready? on Nov. 6.
Dr. Elizabeth Cohn, the director for Adelphi’s Center for Health Innovation, was the driving force behind the event’s formation.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC), Ebola is a rare and deadly disease that is spread through direct contact with blood and bodily fluids of a person infected and actively showing symptoms. It is not spread through the air or water, and if not immediately treated properly, has a high fatality rate.
Ebola bred fear in the United States when, this past September, an afflicted traveler from a region in West Africa experiencing an outbreak of the disease in turn infected two hospital personnel in Texas, both of whom have since been successfully treated. The traveler, however, died from the illness. There have been no reported cases in this country since. Even so, health professionals want to be prepared.
“The purpose of the Center for Health Innovation is to find a way to rapidly respond to and deeply explore some of the public health issues that are affecting Long Island, specifically,” she said. “The idea for the conference came from my external board of directors, and they suggested that the Center should put together a bipartisan panel on Ebola to explore the different aspects of it.”
However, Ebola was only one aspect of a far broader discussion whose participants included Stony Brook University President Dr. Samuel Stanley, President and CEO of NuHealth Victor F. Politi and Commissioner of Nassau County Department of Health Dr. Lawrence Eisenstein.
“The conference was not about Ebola per se, but thinking about public health more broadly,” Cohn said. “Ebola is indeed a global problem that needs to be solved, but we used it to bring people together to open up communication about public health.”
Nassau Health Commissioner Dr. Lawrence Eisenstein said he was impressed at the role Adelphi has taken in the past when tackling important issues in public forums. Ebola and Beyond, he said, was no different.
“Adelphi has done a great job with these conferences, and I’ve participated in many of them,” he said. “The most impressive thing about this discussion was that there was no editorializing, no politics and no agendas. It was just the facts.”
Philip Alcabes, professor of Public Health at Adelphi, said it’s probably more important to be up to date with your regular flu shot than actually worrying about contracting Ebola anytime soon.
“Ebola is not a health crisis in America, but I see this panic over Ebola not as real fear about infection, as the great majority of Americans know that isn’t going to happen,” he said. “I think this panic has to do with a lack of faith in American institutions, especially public health authorities.”
Some critics insinuated that part of the national Ebola panic is fueled to some degree by sensationalistic reporting in the media. People are seemingly inundated with non-stop Ebola coverage, with some decrying it as fear-mongering. While Alcabes disagrees that this is entirely the case, he does feel the Ebola reporting has been unbalanced overall while ignoring the bigger issues.
“I do feel the media made too much out of something that is a very small threat in this case,” he said. “The real issue is Americans’ lack of interest in establishing health programs and infrastructure in other parts of the world.”
Eisenstein also played down the recent public hysteria, noting the odds of any Nassau County resident contracting Ebola at any point are very, very slim. However, he added that when you have a disease with such a high fatality rate (he estimated that 60-70 percent of the cases discovered in Africa typically end in death), it is nonetheless important to prepare properly, should the worst ever happen.
“Everything that Nassau County has done is under the guidance of the CDC and the New York State Health Department, in addition to other agencies. Our preparation has been extensive,” he said. “All of our hospitals and first responders have been required and have completed training.”
The Center for Health Innovation holds a regular series of these panel discussions on public health issues. The next one is potentially slated to address the current heroin problem affecting Long Island.
The school’s Ebola conference can be viewed at www.chi.adelphi.edu/newsevent/ebola-and-beyond-are-we-ready/.