TIME ebola

Ebola Brings Another Fear: Xenophobia

Amadou Drame, 11, and brother Pape Drame, 13, right, listen as their father, Ousmane Drame, responds to questions during a news interview on Oct. 28, 2014, in New York.
Amadou Drame, left, 11, and brother Pape Drame, right, 13, listen as their father Ousmane Drame responds to questions during a news interview on Oct. 28, 2014, in New York City Frank Franklin II—AP

A father's claim that his two boys were beaten and called "Ebola" raises concern among Africans

The father says the bullying began soon after his two sons arrived at their New York City school from Senegal almost one month ago. They were called “Ebola” by other students, taunted about possibly being contagious and excluded from playing ball. Ousmane Drame says the baiting finally erupted into a physical fight on Oct. 24 when 11-year-old Amadou and his 13-year-old brother Pape were pummeled by classmates on the playground of Intermediate School 318 in the Bronx.

“It’s not just them,” Drame said at a press conference. “All the African children suffer this.”

The brothers’ experience is an extreme example of the backlash felt by some Africans in the U.S. since the Ebola virus arrived from West Africa. Many others tell of facing subtler, but no less hurtful, forms of discrimination at work, in school and as they commute as fear of the little-known but often deadly disease has spread among the public.

In Staten Island, the largest Liberian community outside of Africa, one woman says she was forced to take temporary, unpaid leave from her job because of her nationality. Liberians in Minnesota have been told to leave work after sneezing or coughing. In New Jersey, two elementary school students from Rwanda were kept out of school after other parents pressured school officials. At Navarro College, a public community college in Texas, officials mailed letters rejecting international applicants from African countries, even ones from countries without confirmed Ebola cases. (The school has since apologized for sending out “incorrect information.”)

“This is a larger problem,” says Charles Cooper, president of the New York City–based African Advisory Council, an advocacy group. “People are on the train and they sneeze and hear, ‘I hope you don’t have Ebola. I hope you don’t give me Ebola.’ Xenophobia is growing around this, but many people are afraid to come out publicly.”

The spread of previously unknown, contagious diseases in the U.S. has often led to these sorts of overreactions. For Ebola, those fears appear driven by the circumstances of the virus — its high mortality rate, its gruesome symptoms, its origins on a continent often misunderstood by Americans — even though the odds of contracting it in the U.S. remain exceedingly low. A recent poll from the Harvard School of Public Health found that more than half of adults worry there will be a large Ebola outbreak inside in the U.S. over the next year, while over a third are worried that they or a family member will be infected.

While fears erupted around people diagnosed with polio in the 1940s and SARS in the 2000s, public-health experts point to the start of the AIDS epidemic in the early 1980s as the last time Americans attached a similar stigma to people even loosely associated with the virus. At the time, many Americans refused to be near those suspected of having HIV, unaware of how it was actually transmitted.

“A lot of what I’m seeing today was present at the very beginning of the AIDS epidemic,” says Robert Fullilove, a Columbia University professor of sociomedical sciences, who has been researching HIV since the mid-1980s. “It’s this tendency to separate between two different groups, when somebody’s ‘otherness’ is associated with a deadly disease. It’s like déjà vu all over again.”

That toxic brew of fear and misinformation led to discrimination against gays — the disease was unfairly yet colloquially known as the “gay plague” for its disproportionate toll among homosexual men — and people from Haiti, which was the first country in the western hemisphere with confirmed cases of HIV.

“Haiti itself became stigmatized,” says Dr. Joia Mukherjee, a Harvard Medical School associate professor. “The same thing is happening now with Liberians, and indeed all of Africa.”

In both cases, the driving forces are the same: a general lack of understanding about the disease, how it is transmitted and where it’s been concentrated.

“The average American doesn’t even recognize how big Africa is,” Fullilove says of the Ebola stereotypes.

The bullying allegedly faced by the Drame brothers is a case in point. The vast majority of Ebola cases are in Liberia and Sierra Leone. Senegal had only one confirmed case and is now considered free of the disease by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Countering such misinformation has been central to the messaging strategy of the CDC and government officials. It’s no coincidence that President Obama hugged Nina Pham after the Dallas nurse was declared free of the virus. And the image offensive may be paying off. According to a new ABC News/Washington Post poll, the people least worried about catching the disease or a larger U.S. outbreak were the ones who knew the most about how Ebola is transmitted.

Read next: 2 Kids from Senegal Were Beaten Up in NYC by Classmates Yelling ‘Ebola’

TIME ebola

Here’s What Would Happen if Ebola Was Stolen From a Lab

Biohazard sticker on laboratory window
Adam Gault—OJO Images RF/Getty Images

The virus is considered a bioterrorism agent. But massive fines, jail time and a risk of deadly exposure may be enough of a deterrent

Scientists routinely study deadly pathogens like Ebola in order to find ways to fight them and discover potential cures. But what would happen if a sample of Ebola was taken from a lab illegally?

Under federal regulations, Ebola is considered a “select agent and toxin” that has the “potential to pose a severe threat to public health and safety,” and it’s illegal to possess, use or transfer a deadly pathogen to another individual without a certificate from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, says John Kraemer, an expert on infectious diseases and the law at Georgetown University’s Department of Health Systems Administration. Obtaining that certificate requires meeting a set of biosafety and biosecurity requirements. And the penalties for failing to do so can be steep.

The government has levied fines of hundreds of thousands of dollars to laboratories that have violated the select agent regulations. In 2008, HHS docked Texas A&M University $1 million for safety violations at its biodefense lab. Individuals who steal a disease sample could face similarly steep fines and time behind bars. Under federal law, HHS can fine a person up to $250,000 for each violation and can recommend imprisonment of up to five years.

But there is an additional layer of sensitivity to handling Ebola. The CDC considers viral hemorrhagic fevers, which includes Ebola, a Category A bioterrorism agent. And since 2001, several bioterrorism laws have strengthened criminal penalties against those who attempt to commandeer them. The Patriot Act in 2001 created a provision banning the transfer of a select agent like Ebola, and the Bioterrorism Act of 2002 gave more authority to the HHS to regulate those agents and diseases.

In September, the Obama administration issued new regulations for federally funded labs that work with contagious diseases like Ebola. Some researchers have criticized the guidelines as not being strong enough over fears that the pathogens, which are often made stronger in a lab, could potentially be used as bioweapons.

Kraemer says two scenarios could likely play out if Ebola samples fell into the wrong hands. If a researcher acquired Ebola for misguided research, for example, then they would likely get fined by HHS and could be sentenced to five years in prison.

“If however someone broke into a hospital to steal Ebola for some other reason, it’d be at least 10 years,” Kraemer says. “If someone acquires Ebola with an intent to weaponize it, then they can get life in prison. And, of course, if you actually use Ebola as a weapon, you can be prosecuted under federal anti-terrorism laws, with penalties up to the death penalty.”

Given the security required at labs authorized to handle potential biological weapons, as well as the risk that someone stealing a pathogen may also become infected by it, those latter scenarios are highly unlikely.

“Stealing an Ebola sample would be extremely dangerous because the thief would face a significant risk of exposure,” says Robert Field, a professor of law at Drexel University. “Other pathogens would be safer to steal because protection is easier.”

Like, for instance, anthrax.

TIME ebola

Texas Tells Ebola Health Care Workers Not to Travel

Dr. Daniel Varga, Chief Clinical Officer, Senior Executive Vice President, Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings, Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins and Dallas County Human and Health Service Director Zach Thompson held a news conference about the new Ebola case on Oct. 15, 2014 at Dallas County Commissioners Court in Dallas.
Dr. Daniel Varga, Chief Clinical Officer, Senior Executive Vice President, Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings, Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins and Dallas County Human and Health Service Director Zach Thompson held a news conference about the new Ebola case on Oct. 15, 2014 at Dallas County Commissioners Court in Dallas. David Woo—Dallas Morning News/Corbis

The news comes as one nurse self-quarantines on a cruise

Health care workers who came in close proximity to the first Ebola patient diagnosed in the U.S. are being told they need to avoid public places or they may be involuntarily quarantined.

Under the new rules, which were issued late Thursday by the Texas Department of Health and affect almost 100 people, nurses who entered the hospital room of the first patient must stay away from restaurants and theaters, and forgo travel on airplanes or trains. The new directives from the state, which has seen each of the first three Ebola diagnoses on U.S. soil, lay out explicit guidelines for monitoring health care workers. They come as the federal government is under increasing pressure to do more to contain the virus. After officials were grilled by lawmakers Thursday, President Barack Obama on Friday tapped a longtime Washington aide to be an Ebola “czar” and coordinate the federal response. And the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which has been under particularly harsh scrutiny for its handling of the crisis, is expected to issue new guidelines for health care workers treating Ebola patients soon, Bloomberg reports.

Under the new Texas directives, hospital employees directly involved in caring for Thomas Eric Duncan, the Ebola patient who died Oct. 8, will be monitored with twice-daily check-ins for the 21-day duration of the disease’s incubation period. One of the daily check-ins must be conducted in person.

The state has threatened to subject anyone who ignores the guidelines to a “communicable disease control order”—or in other words, to quarantine them—but officials said they expect compliance.

“These are hometown health care heroes,” Clay Jenkins, a Dallas judge who has been closely involved in managing the containment effort, told the New York Times. “They want to do this. They’re going to follow these agreements.”

The announcement comes amid news that two health care workers who had treated Duncan later traveled out of state—Amber Joy Vinson by plane and another on a cruise ship. Vinson was diagnosed with Ebola following her flight and is being treated at Emory University Hospital in Atlanta. The other, who has not been unidentified, is self-monitoring in isolation aboard the cruise ship.

The new restrictions prevent both flights and cruises, along with any other “commercial transportation” or travel to “any location where members of the public congregate.”

The Ebola outbreak has killed more than 4,500 people in West Africa.

TIME ebola

Rick Perry Wants to Ban Air Travel From West Africa Amid Ebola Outbreak

Rick Perry
Republican Gov. Rick Perry of Texas, delivers the keynote address at a Heritage Foundation event titled "The Border Crisis and New Politics of Immigration," August 21, 2014. Tom Williams—CQ-Roll Call,Inc.

He joins a growing list of politicians calling for such a ban

Texas Gov. Rick Perry on Friday called on the federal government to impose a ban on air travel from the West African countries hardest hit by Ebola, joining a growing list of politicians supporting such a travel restriction.

Perry reasoned a ban is the right move given that the first patient diagnosed with Ebola in the United States, Thomas Eric Duncan, traveled from Ebola-ridden Liberia to eventually reach Texas, the Associated Press reports. The governor’s call for travel restrictions is a reversal of his stance from just 10 days ago when he said an enhanced medical screening process would be more effective at keeping Ebola out of the country.

“The impact from banning flights from these areas is not going to be an efficient way to deal with this,” Perry said last week, according to The Hill. Referring to a travel ban, Perry added, “There are some that would make the argument that it would [hamper the fight against Ebola].”

Several prominent Republican politicians in particular, including Mitt Romney, have called for flight restrictions, but many health officials say that such a ban would only hurt efforts to contain the disease.

[AP]

TIME LGBT

Houston’s Pastors Outraged After City Subpoenas Sermons Over Transgender Bill

Ted Cruz
Sen. Ted Cruz is surrounded by preachers as he addresses a crowd at a Houston church Thursday, Oct. 16, 2014 about a legal dispute involving several pastors fighting subpoenas from Houston city attorneys. Pat Sullivan—AP

City officials have subpoenaed the sermons of five pastors who oppose the Houston's new equal rights ordinance

Houston, with its left-leaning, openly gay mayor governing an influential conservative and evangelical base, is a city politically divided. That division has been made clear in recent days after the city subpoenaed sermons of several pastors who oppose a recently passed equal rights ordinance for gay and transgender residents. The subpoenas are an attempt by city officials to determine how the preachers instructed their congregants in their push to get the law repealed.

The city’s subpoenas targeted sermons and speeches by five Houston pastors with ties to religious leaders attempting to repeal the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance, which bars businesses from discriminating against gay and transgender residents. The law, passed into law by Mayor Annise Parker in May, is often derided as a “bathroom bill,” because it allows transgender individuals to choose whether to use a male or female restroom.

This summer, a group of local pastors and religious leaders began gathering signatures in an attempt to get a referendum to repeal the law on this November’s ballot. But City Attorney David Feldman blocked that attempt by throwing out thousands of signatures he said didn’t meet the criteria to qualify, incensing groups opposed to the rule.

Local religious leaders claim Feldman illegally disqualified the referendum and have filed a suit against the city. Mayor Parker, meanwhile, has pledged not to enforce the ordinance until there’s a court decision. But the move by the city to subpoena Houston’s pastors, who have been vocal on the issue and have urged their congregants to support a repeal referendum, has drawn national attention. Republican Senator Ted Cruz said in a statement that the subpoenas were “shocking and shameful,” and Family Research Council’s Tony Perkins has called for the city to drop them as well.

“The chilling effect of government scrutiny of our pastors is unconstitutional, and unconscionable,” Perkins said in a statement. “Mayor Parker’s use of her bully pulpit to silence pulpit freedom must be stopped in its tracks.”

Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott also issued a letter saying the city impinged on the pastors’ First Amendment rights and called for the subpoenas’ immediate reversal. “Whether you intend it to be so or not, your action is a direct assault on the religious liberty guaranteed by the First Amendment,” Abbott wrote to Feldman. “The people of Houston and their religious leaders must be absolutely secure in their knowledge that their religious affairs are beyond the reach of the government.”

University of Houston law professor Peter Linzer says the city reached too far in issuing the subpoenas. One subpoena sent to Pastor Steve Riggle, for example, asks for “all speeches, presentations, or sermons related to [the equal rights ordinance], the petition, Mayor Annise Parker, homosexuality, or gender identity.” However, Linzer says it wouldn’t impinge on the pastors’ First Amendment rights if the city only asked only for sermons or speeches related to the signature drive. “Let’s assume they gave instructions to cheat,” Linzer says. “That would be relevant speech and I don’t see how they would have any First Amendment protection for that.”

Among those fighting the city’s move is the Alliance for Defending Freedom, a religious freedom advocacy non-profit whose lawyers have filed a motion trying to quash the subpoenas. “I haven’t seen any indication that the city is backing down,” says Erik Stanley, the group’s senior legal counsel. “But we’re hopeful that they will. The only thing we can figure is they were subpoenaed because they spoke out against the ordinance. And they urged people to sign the petition. They exercised their constitutional rights to speak out.”

Still, Mayor Parker and City Attorney David Feldman appeared to backtrack on the subpoenas Wednesday, saying they had only recently learned of them and that outside lawyers handled the lawsuit. They argued the city is merely looking for communications from those pastors regarding the petition drive, but that the subpoenas’ language was inappropriate.

“There’s no question the wording was overly broad,” Parker said in a news conference Wednesday. “But I also think there was some deliberate misinterpretation.” Feldman, the city attorney, called the uproar over the wording “ridiculous,” but also has argued that if a pastor is speaking about political issues from the pulpit, it’s not protected. The mayor’s office declined to comment further for this story.

On Friday, The Houston Chronicle reported that the city would remove the term “sermon” from the subpoenas. Mayor Parker, however, said that relevant sermons regarding the petition drive could still be gathered.

TIME ebola

Hospital Staffer Who May Have Had Ebola Contact Left U.S. on Cruise Ship

The Texas hospital employee has shown no indications of becoming sick

Updated Friday, Oct. 17

An employee of Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital in Dallas who may have come in contact with specimens taken from an Ebola patient left the United States aboard a cruise ship, the State Department said Friday. The revelation raises further questions about travel policies regarding health workers involved in treating Ebola patients after it came to light that a nurse later diagnosed with the virus was allowed to fly earlier this week despite self-reporting an elevated temperature.

The employee on the cruise did not have direct contact with the patient, is not contagious, and has shown no indication of having contracted the illness in the 19 days since she came into contact with the Ebola patient’s fluid samples. The individual is nonetheless being monitored by doctors aboard the ship and has remained along with a traveling partner in voluntary isolation in a ship cabin.

The hospital employee, who is a lab supervisor at the hospital where she works, according to Carnival Senior Cruise Director John Heald, left aboard a commercial cruise ship from Galveston, Texas, on October 12, before learning of new monitoring requirements from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“We are working with the cruise line to bring them back to the United States out of an abundance of caution,” the State Department said in a statement.

In a Facebook post published Friday, Heald said the cruise line learned that the guest was aboard the ship on Wednesday.

“It is important to reiterate that the individual has no symptoms and has been isolated in an extreme abundance of caution,” Heald said in his post. “We are in close contact with the CDC and at this time it has been determined that the appropriate course of action is to simply keep the guest in isolation on board.”

TIME ebola

Ebola Survivor Donates Plasma to Infected Dallas Nurse

He was not a match for Duncan

Dr. Kent Brantly, one of the first patients flown to the U.S. after contracting Ebola in West Africa, who survived the disease, has donated his plasma to the Dallas nurse Nina Pham, who was recently diagnosed with the virus.

Dr. Brantly was a medical missionary for the group Samaritan’s Purse, which confirmed the donation. He became infected in July while working to treat Ebola patients in Liberia, and was evacuated to the U.S. for treatment.

(PHOTOS: See How A Photographer Is Covering Ebola’s Deadly Spread)

Samaritan’s Purse has also confirmed that Dr. Brantly offered to donate plasma to Thomas Duncan, the first patient to be diagnosed with Ebola in the U.S. Duncan was not a match, and therefore the donation did not happen. Duncan died of the disease on Oct. 8 at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital in Dallas.

(PHOTOS: Inside the Ebola Crisis: The Images That Moved Them Most)

Brantly donated plasma to an infected NBC cameraman earlier this month. Read his account of what it’s like to survive Ebola here.

TIME weather

Severe Storms, Tornadoes Threaten Southern U.S.

NOAA CLOUDS
Storm clouds are seen above the southern United States via this satellite image on Oct. 11, 2014. NOAA/AP

Cities from Dallas to Chicago could experience wind gusts of at least 58 mph

Nearly 40 million Americans faced the threat of severe thunderstorms, hail and possible tornadoes on Monday, forecasters warned.

One person was killed when a strong storm damaged a house in Little River County, Arkansas, early Monday, according to the Little River Sheriff’s Office. NBC Dallas-Fort Worth reported downed power lines in North Texas following heavy rain and hail Monday morning.

A large portion of the northeast of the state was under a tornado watch, according to the National Weather Service. Thunderstorms were expected to progress from East Texas through the Mississippi Valley and into the Tennessee Valley on Monday, according to…

Read the rest of the story from our partners at NBC News

TIME ebola

Health Worker in Texas Tests Positive for Ebola

The worker reportedly wore full protective gear while caring for an Ebola patient who died Wednesday

Updated 7:10 a.m. E.T. on Oct. 13

A Texas health worker has tested positive for Ebola after caring for an Ebola patient who died this week, officials said Sunday, marking the second diagnosis of the deadly disease in the United States.

“We don’t know what occurred, but at some point there was a breach in protocol,” Centers for Disease and Control and Prevention (CDC) director Tom Frieden said at a news conference, noting that “there is a need to enhance the protocol to make sure that they are followed.”

Following the announcement of the preliminary diagnosis by theTexas Department of State Health Services (TDSHS), the CDC later confirmed Sunday that the patient is in fact battling Ebola. The health worker is the first known case of someone contracting the deadly Ebola virus in the U.S.

The patient reported a fever on Friday after following the CDC’s self-monitoring procedures, which include twice daily temperature checks. The patient was admitted into isolation within 90 minutes of the temperature check.

“We knew a second case could be a reality, and we’ve been preparing for this possibility,” Dr. David Lakey, commissioner of the TDSHS, said in a statement. “We are broadening our team in Dallas and working with extreme diligence to prevent further spread.”

The worker, who is in stable condition and whose identity has not been made public, reportedly wore protective gear while caring for Thomas Eric Duncan at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital, according to chief clinical officer Dr. Daniel Varga, the Associated Press reports. Duncan, the first individual in the U.S. to be diagnosed with Ebola, died on Wednesday.

Varga said the hospital is “very concerned” about the spread of the virus despite the worker’s safety precautions, which he said included “gown, glove, mask and shield.”

Frieden said that treatment of Ebola “can be done safely but it’s hard to do safely. Even a single inadvertent slip can result in contamination.”

The White House said in a statement Sunday afternoon that President Obama had been briefed on the new patient’s condition, and had directed that the CDC’s breach investigation move quickly and that “federal authorities take immediate additional steps to ensure hospitals and health care providers nationwide are prepared to follow protocols should they encounter an Ebola patient.”

Because of staffing limitations, the emergency department at the hospital is currently on “diversion” and is not allowing ambulances to deliver patients to the emergency room, the hospital said in a statement. Texas Health Resources is also monitoring all staff who cared for Duncan and “triple checking” its safety measures and compliance with CDC guidelines.

“Breaking the links in the chains of transmission is the key to preventing further spread,” Frieden said.

— With additional reporting by Zeke Miller

TIME ebola

Dallas Ebola Patient Gets Experimental Drug

Center For Disease Control Director Tom Frieden Addresses The Media On Ebola Case In U.S.
Director of Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Tom Frieden addresses the media on the Ebola case in the U.S. at the Tom Harkin Global Communications Center on Oct. 5, 2014 in Atlanta. Kevin C. Cox—Getty Images

Patient still in critical condition

Dallas Ebola patient Thomas Duncan is now receiving an experimental drug called brincidofovir, a broad-spectrum antiviral that has appeared promising against Ebola in test tube studies. The drug is currently being tested on animals but has not been tested on humans.

Duncan is still in critical condition, according to Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital.

The drug is an oral medication developed by the biopharmaceutical company Chimerix Inc. The company says the drug received Emergency Investigational New Drug Applications (EIND) from the Food and Drug Administration on Monday morning and it is working with the agency to open a clinical trial. The request for use of investigational drugs can be made by physicians. So far, this drug has only shown effectiveness against the virus in vitro.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention director Dr. Tom Frieden previously said the decision of whether to treat Duncan with any experimental drugs would be left up Duncan, his family and his doctors.

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