Fearing Ebola, some US communities take dramatic steps

Washington (AFP) - As President Barack Obama on Saturday urged against "hysteria or fear" over Ebola, US media had reports of communities taking seemingly overzealous measures against the disease.

A teacher from Maine was placed on three-weeks paid leave because she'd traveled to Texas for a conference -- where she'd stayed in a hotel 10 miles (16 kilometers) from the hospital in which the first case of the virus was diagnosed in the United States.

A Pulitzer-prize-winning photographer was uninvited from speaking at a journalism school, because he'd gone to Ebola hotspot Liberia, even though he'd been back 21 days and was showing no symptoms.

And a group of Mississippi parents pulled their kids from school because the principal recently traveled to Africa -- though he'd been to a completely different part of the continent from where the Ebola epidemic is wreaking havoc.

In each case, parents or officials involved say they were acting out of an abundance of caution.

In the Maine case, Matt Dexter, who has a child at Strong Elementary School in the coastal city of Portland, told the Portland Press Herald that many parents were concerned the school had sent a teacher to Dallas without telling parents.

"I'm really tired of people telling everyone, on the news, starting at the national level, 'zero risk, low risk,'" Dexter told the newspaper.

"The bottom line is that there is risk."

Two nurses in Dallas caught Ebola after caring for a Liberian man, Thomas Eric Duncan, who died October 8 after becoming the first case diagnosed in the United States.

In New York state, Syracuse University rescinded its invitation to three-time Pulitzer Prize-winning photojournalist Michel du Cille of The Washington Post, because he had been working in Liberia.

Du Cille, who had been scheduled to offer expert critiques as part of a journalism program, had already been back 21 days, which health officials say is the outer limit for the disease's incubation, and was symptom-free.

"I am disappointed in the level of journalism at Syracuse, and I am angry that they missed a great teaching opportunity," he told News Photographer magazine.

"Instead they have decided to jump in with the mass hysteria."

The journalism school said it acted after a student voiced unease.

"While I don’t want to contribute to the fears about the disease, I believed we needed to exercise due caution," dean Lorraine Branham said in a statement.

In Hazlehurst, Mississippi, some parents pulled their children from a middle school because the principal had traveled to Zambia to attend his brother's funeral.

Zambia is in southern Africa, far from the Ebola crisis in West Africa.

In his weekly address to the nation on Saturday, Obama cautioned against over-reacting to Ebola.

"This is a serious disease, but we can't give in to hysteria or fear -- because that only makes it harder to get people the accurate information they need," the president said.

"We have to be guided by the science. We have to remember the basic facts."