Not even an infectious disease expert could assuage Fox News anchor Jon Scott’s Ebola hype.
One by one, Dr. William Schaffner answered Scott’s breathless questions on Wednesday afternoon about an Ebola-infected healthcare worker who boarded a flight from Cleveland to Dallas, providing a calm counter to Fox’s apocalyptic coverage of the outbreak.
“Well, if I were on the flight I really wouldn’t be worried,” Schaffner, the chairman of Vanderbilt University’s Department of Preventive Medicine, explained.
“She was not symptomatic and no one had contact with her blood or body fluids. They’re going to find out that all of those folks are just fine,” the doctor continued. “They’re going to treat their anxiety. They will follow them carefully and monitor them. But they’re going to be alright.”
“Well, that’s good news,” Scott said, sounding unconvinced. “But there have been so many, you know, holes in this whole Ebola story. You know, just the fact that this [deceased Ebola victim] Thomas Duncan was able to apparently lie to immigration officials, say that he hadn’t been around any Ebola victims when in fact he had, then he brings it to this country, then a couple of nurses get sick, people who are supposed to be, you know, taking all the precautions. It just raises a lot of unease.”
Schaffner said he understood the public’s unease, but he called the “epidemic of anxiety out there much larger than the actual number of patients with Ebola.”
“Actually, the community aspect of this Ebola response has been done by the book,” Schaffner said. “All the individuals who had contact with Mr. Duncan … are doing well. They continue to be monitored and they’re now close to the end of their monitoring period. That ought to give us a great deal of comfort.”
Schaffner conceded that there were “major glitches in the hospital,” which was the type of response Scott was looking for.
“Yeah, just the fact that the original victim, Thomas Duncan, was able to sit there in a hospital emergency room complaining of all these symptoms and apparently they gave him antibiotics and sent him home,” Scott said.
“You know, who knows how many people may have been exposed there in the emergency room?” Scott said, his voice rising.
Schaffner was once again left to set Scott straight, and to urge the anchor to simmer down.
“Well, actually, those people — once again, let’s calm this down a little bit — had no contact with his body fluids,” Schaffner said. “So their risk, if any, must be minuscule. So, actually this is not a virus that’s easy to get. It’s not like the flu. And I think we need to focus on how you do get it, and how you don’t. That’s even more important.”
Scott didn’t find the flu comparison persuasive.
“OK, well, the flu, for instance, can be transmitted through a sneeze and someone else inhaling airborne particles,” Scott said. “You’re saying that that’s not the case here?”
“That’s not the way Ebola is transmitted,” Schaffner said. “You need contact with a sick person’s bodily fluids.”
The interview ultimately ended with Scott giving Schaffner one last chance to gin up some fear.
“But you’re urging calm and, I guess, a lack of panic here?” Scott asked.
“Oh, please, a lack of panic, calm it down,” Schaffner said. “I can assure you there will not be widespread Ebola in the United States. That’s not going to happen.”
Schaffner did not respond to TPM’s request for comment.