Fear of Ebola is causing people all over the country to act on unfounded fears, and Kentucky is no exception

By Melissa Patrick
Kentucky Health News

Fearing the Ebola virus, administrators at St. Margaret Mary Catholic School in Louisville put Susan Sherman, a registered nurse and an elementary school teacher, on “precautionary leave” after she returned from a medical mission trip from Kenya, an African nation that is 3,000 miles from Ebola-stricken areas and has no known Ebola cases, Allison Ross reports for the The Courier-Journal. Sherman has since resigned from her job.

Last week, Paul Sherman, Susan’s husband and a retired orthopedic surgeon, sent a letter to Louisville Archbishop Joseph Kurtz, complaining that “unfounded fears” of some parents and parish staff “are triumphing over truth and reason, ” Ross reports in a separate article.

Kurtz said in retrospect that the school’s decision to ask Sherman to take a leave of absence was “not the right judgement” and that he was “very open” to having her come back to work at the school again, Ross reports.

The school has also sent a letter to parents saying that it asked Sherman to take a leave because “attempts to communicate facts and reduce fear were unsuccessful,” and apologizing for poor communication to her, Ross reports.

Sherman’s husband responded with a letter and said his wife was not “asked” to take a leave and called the school’s apology “‘half-hearted’ and disputed parts of the school’s account,” Ross reports.

Fear of Ebola was also used as part of an election strategy during the recent U.S. Senate race, reports Kentucky’s U.S. Senate Race, an independent blog run by students and their instructor, Al Cross, at the University of Kentucky:

“A stealthy coterie of difficult-to-trace outside groups is slipping tens of millions of dollars of attack ads and negative automated telephone calls into the final days of the midterm campaign, helping fuel an unprecedented surge of last-minute spending on Senate races,” report Nicholas Confessore and Derek Willis of The New York Times. “Much of the advertising is being timed to ensure that no voter will know who is paying for it until after the election on Tuesday.” The story doesn’t mention Kentucky, but a friend of ours in West Kentucky, a white man in his early 60s, said he got about 10 phone calls Sunday, most favoring Republicans, including one with a woman’s voice “threatening ‘African danger’ from Ebola and to vote against Obama,” he wrote in an email.

CBS News reports other cases of unfounded Ebola fears affecting people who had no apparent risk of exposure to the disease, including a third-grade girl in Milford, Conn., who after returning from a relative’s wedding in Nigeria, which was recently declared Ebola-free, was told to not come to school for 21 days “due to concern from certain parents and teachers that she could transmit Ebola to other children,” according to the lawsuit. They also report that two middle school boys in the Bronx, originally from Senegal, also with no known cases of Ebola, have been harrassed with Ebola taunts at school.

Ross cites more stories of fear from across the nation, including a certified nursing assistant in Dallas who claimed she was sent home because her daughter had visited Kenya, and a bridal shop in Akron that closed temporarily after learning that a nurse who was later diagnosed with Ebola had shopped there.

A recent press release about Ebola from Kentucky’s Cabinet for Health and Family Services says,”There is no significant risk to Kentuckians at this time.”

“The only individuals potentially at risk for Ebola in the United States right now are those who have traveled to affected areas of West Africa or who have been directly involved in treating cases of Ebola or close contacts to a symptomatic patient with Ebola,” Health Commissioner Stephanie Mayfield said in the release.

The release reminds us: “Ebola is not spread by air, water, casual contact or food in the United States. You can only get Ebola from contact with bodily fluids of a person who is sick with or has died from Ebola, or from exposure to contaminated objects, such as needles.”

The only actual Ebola case known in the U.S. right now is that of a New York physician who was infected while treating patients in Guinea. He is listed in stable condition at a Manhattan hospital, CBS reports.

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