Given America's infrastructure and standards of medical care, we realistically have very little to fear from the West African Ebola outbreak that recently arrived in Dallas. At the same time, it's hard to blame anyone for wanting to learn more about the disease, and that includes the NFL, which this week sent a letter to team doctors with recommendations on what to tell anxious players. None more anxious than the Giants, who fly to Dallas to play the Cowboys this weekend.
"I think guys might think twice if they were planning to bring their wives or their families with them on a trip like this, because why take a chance?" cornerback Prince Amukamara said. "But I think the team is doing a good job making sure we have all of the information we need."
The Giants medical staff received a memo from experts at Duke University's Infection Control Outreach Network, and passed it along to players in the form of a fact sheet. It focuses on the fact that the media attention to Ebola far outstrips its danger, and says quite clearly that players are more likely to die in a plane crash than from Ebola—a striking comparison to hear just before getting on a flight.
Instead, the experts' advice was for medical staffs to get one crucial piece of information across to NFL players: that if they have contact with anyone who recently traveled to or from West Africa, they should inform team doctors. That's all. Business as usual.
Which still doesn't make what Giants co-owner Steve Tisch said two weeks ago any better. Asked if he feared Ebola on his team's upcoming trip to Dallas, Tisch replied that "the Cowboys are going to get it first, so it's to our advantage."
If you'd like to read the infectious disease experts' letter to NFL doctors and trainers, it's been obtained and published in full by USA Today. Here are some key points:
No transmission without symptoms - The scientific evidence is compelling and convincing that exposed persons who have not yet developed fever or other signs of EVD are not infectious to others. In other words, non-symptomatic patients who are in the incubation period after exposure to Ebola virus are NOT infectious to others.
Key risk factor = travel – When questions about potential risk of acquiring EVD arise, the key question is "have you or anyone you've been in close contact with been to West Africa?" If the answer to this question is "no," the risk of acquiring EVD is extremely low. The CDC recently published a useful algorithm for evaluating patients who recently returned from high-risk areas in West Africa (Figure 1).
Perception is not reality - Perceptions of risk of acquiring EVD have been skewed in many news articles about the importation of EVD into the United States. Even if additional imported cases of EVD occur in the future, this risk among persons who are not involved with the direct care of sick patients will almost certainly remain far lower than the risk of other rare causes of death such as dying from a dog bite or attack (1 in 104,000), lightning strikes (1 in 136,000), or a plane crash (1 in 1,100,000).