Tablet Local

Church concerned about Ebola stigma for Dallas contacts

Officials at Wilshire Baptist Church are considering extra security for Louise Troh and her children amid fears about Ebola across Dallas-Fort Worth — and throughout the United States.

Experts who study psychology say the release of 48 people from the Ebola watch list back into society, and the expected onslaught of news coverage about them shopping at local grocery stores and returning to schools, could fuel another wave of irrational fears.

They say the next few weeks could be crucial to understanding whether the hysteria will begin to dissipate or continue to spread as public and business leaders across the country announce precautions taken to monitor those with even the slightest interaction — or potential interaction — with the virus.

“Ebola is very much in the public imagination right now,” said Andrew Noymer, a sociologist who studies infectious diseases at the University of California, Irvine. “It’s not a science-based fear.”

In a statement Sunday, Troh thanked the community for its support and asking for privacy as she and her family monitor their health.

“We are so happy this is coming to an end, and we are so grateful that none of us has shown any sign of illness,” she wrote in the statement, which also mourned the loss of her fiance, Thomas Eric Duncan.

“Our hearts also go out to the two brave women who have been infected by this terrible disease as they were trying to help him,” she continued.

Ebola has killed about 4,500 people in West Africa. But the chances of infection in the United States remain extremely low. Only one person has died in the United States, and two medical workers have caught the disease.

Nonetheless, people are afraid. A Washington Post-ABC News poll last week found that nearly two-thirds of Americans were concerned about a widespread Ebola outbreak. President Barack Obama assigned an Ebola czar, lawmakers have called for travel bans, and late last week, a Caribbean cruise ship held a passenger in quarantine after learning that the person worked with Duncan’s lab samples at Texas Presbyterian Hospital Dallas, where he was treated. She later tested negative.

But Michael Telch, a professor of psychology who studies anxiety disorders at the University of Texas at Austin, sees many of these steps as overreactions that only perpetuate national anxiety. He said he’s been receiving text messages from his patients at all hours of the night, worried whether they’re going to contract Ebola.

“It’s the bombardment of stories,” he said. “I haven’t seen one story about contracting the flu even though many more people die of the flu than Ebola each year.”

Dallas city officials consider the end of the quarantine a “critical moment” for the community as part of the efforts to contain the disease, but they acknowledge that public concerns remain.

George Mason, Troh’s pastor, acknowledged that fears remain in the neighborhood, when asked about reports of rocks being thrown at the family apartment.

“It’s something we can’t control and we’d like to protect them from that as much as possible,” he said.

Jon Person, 25, who lives down the street from where Duncan and Troh lived, said he doesn’t think the family should be discriminated against, but he questioned whether 21 days of quarantine is long enough. Much is still unknown about the disease, he said, and he questioned whether the government is withholding information to prevent people from getting more scared.

“It’s a scary thing to think about,” said Person, who was washing his clothes at a coin laundry near the apartment Duncan and Troh shared.