NYU hosts panel on Ebola, gives students information to quell fear

Stephanie Grella, Staff Writer

Outlining New York City’s and NYU’s current protection and prevention protocols for Ebola, health professionals responded to the high levels of fear the epidemic elicited in the United States. NYU medical academics and community members gathered at the Silver Center for Arts and Science for an open forum on Thursday, Nov. 6 to discuss the public’s reaction to Ebola.

Since the spreading of Ebola to New York reached news outlets nationwide in October, many students and residents have voiced their fear of catching the disease. Carol Shoshkes Reiss, a professor of biology and neural science at NYU, organized the event.

“I organized this because of the fear and anxiety, which was in part promulgated by the irresponsible aspects of the media,” Reiss said. “The risks in New York are about as much as getting struck by lightening.”

Carlo Ciotoli, associate vice president for student health and head of the Student Health Center, noted New York’s disproportionate fears when an American doctor, who is currently at Bellevue Hospital Center, brought the lethal virus to Manhattan. Ciotoli was in the beginning of his career when the public began reacting to HIV in the early ’80s. He said access to information can help ease people’s fears.

“It’s on us to provide reliable information in a calm way to dispel some of the myths perpetuated in the media,” Ciotoli said. “Having accurate information is very reassuring, and science-based, well-executed health interventions actually work.”

Ciotoli mentioned several of the many protocols NYU took at the beginning stages of the outbreak as well as current practices maintained in the Student Health Center, including four designated isolation rooms for potential Ebola-infected patients on campus. The center is also working to ensure that students and faculty abide by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s Level 3 Warning for non-essential trips to the three most affected counties, Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone.

The session included information on how Ebola developed as a disease and how it can be contracted. Reiss explained Ebola’s origins, stating the virus lives in bats. Animals who contract Ebola from the bats are then eaten by people, which most likely caused the outbreak in Africa’s western countries of Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia.

Chris Dickey, a professor at the NYU Global Institute of Public Health, said neglected public health infrastructure was at the forefront of the outbreak.

“To us, it is very clear that the Ebola crisis is a result of a failure of investing in public health infrastructure both here and in West Africa,” Dickey said. “We’ve ignored investing in the public health infrastructure at the community level, which really made the whole system quite vulnerable, and I don’t think the U.S. is exempt from that.”

As a way to improve the community’s response to Ebola and similar epidemics, Dickey ensures that the GIPH is elevating its prevention and protection practices, responding to recent controversy around quarantining potentially affected people.

“This whole concept of quarantine has really captured the imaginations of quite a lot of the American public,” Dickey said. “One of the things public health officials understand is that quarantine is ultimately quite destructive to the overall mission we have. Really what we need to do is put our resources into the source of the virus and into where the virus is running ramped.”

Gallatin sophomore Shelly Pires has read many articles to educate herself on the virus but thought the forum offered valuable insight into how the university continues to respond to the epidemic.

“I think they did a good job of being thorough for people who needed a basic primer on the subject,” Pires said. “I think the panelists gave a really good primer on Ebola and what NYU’s doing about it, which I’m sure a lot of people care about.”

Email Stephanie Grella at [email protected].