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Visitors Question Dallas Plans After Ebola Patient Dies


In Dallas, public health authorities have two big jobs right now, monitoring the 48 people who had contact with an Ebola patient who died Wednesday, and keeping everyone else from becoming completely paranoid. Doctors say the risk of acquiring the virus is very small for most of us. Still, as NPR's Jeff Brady found, some people are canceling plans because of that one Ebola case in Dallas.

JEFF BRADY, BYLINE: Just about this time of year, Abdullah Reynolds of Atlantic City has a tradition. He flies to Dallas to see his favorite football team.

ABDULLAH REYNOLDS: And this year was no different from any other. We planned a trip to go see my Cowboys.

BRADY: But then, he heard about the first case of Ebola diagnosed in the U.S. in Dallas.

REYNOLDS: I'm scared for my life, and my fiance is scared. This is not like a little sickness; people are dying.

BRADY: So he canceled the trip. The Dallas Convention and Visitors Bureau says it hasn't received calls like this from tourists. The group did hear from organizers of two conventions, but they seemed satisfied with the advice from the medical community that the risk of transmission is low. Even around Dallas, Dr. Seema Yasmin says some people are limiting their activities because of the Ebola case.

SEEMA YASMIN: One colleague at the university told me that her daughter turned up to a birthday party where there should have been 60 kids. And there were about 20.

BRADY: Yasmin is a public health professor at the University of Texas at Dallas. She's also a writer for The Dallas Morning News. And she spent two years investigating disease outbreaks for the CDC. Yasmin understands why people overreact at first. But she says a little education helps. She says to become infected you must have contact with someone who has the signs of the disease.

YASMIN: If they have the virus in their body but they seem perfectly fine, they actually can't transmit the virus to you. They'd have to have fever. They'd have to have diarrhea and vomiting. And even then, you'd have to come in direct contact with their infected bodily fluids. You'd need to have cuts or breaks in your skin.

BRADY: Or, she says, those bodily fluids would have to get into your mucous membranes through places like your eyes or mouth. And, she points out, you're more likely to catch something like the flu or measles than Ebola. Still, this doesn't change Abdullah Reynolds' mind.

REYNOLDS: No, nothing nobody can say. I don't care if the government told me it was safe to go back. I'm not going to Dallas.

BRADY: Another man, Farshad Farahbakhshian from Corvallis, Oregon, also had reservations about coming to Dallas for job interviews. He decided to go but not to tell his mom.

FARSHAD FARAHBAKHSHIAN: 'Cause she's kind of a worrier. And I knew that if she knew that I was coming to a city that had the first Ebola case in the United States, that she would kind of panic and freak out.

BRADY: Farahbakhshian addressed his fears by doing a little research, packing some hand sanitizer and sticking with his travel plan.

FARAHBAKHSHIAN: Seeing the reality definitely calmed me down. Dallas is a huge city. I don't imagine a disease like Ebola spreading here, and there is no panic here. Everything is fine, really.

BRADY: Farahbakhshian knows it's overly cautious, but he's trying not to touch door handles. And pretty much immediately after he shakes someone's hand, he pulls out his hand sanitizer. Jeff Brady, NPR News, Dallas. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Jeff Brady is a National Desk Correspondent based in Philadelphia, where he covers energy issues and climate change. Brady helped establish NPR's environment and energy collaborative which brings together NPR and Member station reporters from across the country to cover the big stories involving the natural world.