From the Editor: Nothing to rumor of Ebola at the Sherburne County jail

Two days after the World Health Organization declared Nigeria free of Ebola virus transmissions, a remnant of the hysteria often caused by mere mention of the virus showed up in an email at the Star News.

The woman who sent the message was convinced an inmate at the Sherburne County Jail had the Ebola virus and had put the entire jail population and community at large at risk.

The Star News has confirmed her suspicion was a rumor.

Sherburne County Sheriff Joel Brott was able to put this to rest, and he accurately pointed out that if an inmate was discovered to have the most remote sign or symptom of the virus that person would not remain there. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention would be in town. CNN and host of other media outlets would also descend on the Sherburne County Government Center.

The little kernel of truth that popped into a rumor of epic proportions was that an inmate who had come through Nigeria en route to the United States had found his way into the Sherburne County Jail.

He had flown from Nigeria to Paris and then to the United States. When his story coming through customs did not match up, he was taken into custody and he found his way to the jail in Elk River.

The inmate had been in Nigeria during the 21-day period of monitoring for the virus in most populous African country of more than 173 million people.

Brott said it was a good reminder for staff to use universal precautions. Like all inmates who are booked into the jail, the traveler who had been in Nigeria had his temperature taken early on in the process. So did inmates when there was an H1N1 or SARS scare. So do inmates when it’s cold and flu season.

Anyone with a low grade fever or higher in the initial booking is flagged for immediate evaluation by clinic staff. All of the inmates have a health screening within 24 hours. This man did not have a temperature or any signs of the Ebola virus or any other illnesses. He was closely monitored and precautions were taken.

And even though there was no reason to believe he had come into contact with the virus, added precautions were taken. A tour of the jail planned for the Elk River Rotary was called off. A speaker was brought in to address the group instead.

In talking with the sheriff, I get a sense that this was more in response to all the media attention and hysteria Ebola has brought in than any shred of risk.

“I wanted to be extra cautious,” Brott said. “If the tour were today, it wouldn’t even be a fleeting thought.”

The man is outside of the 21-day window that the Centers for Disease Control pay close attention to for monitoring.

KSTP reportedly called asking about the inmate. “They decided not to do a story,” Brott said.

We decided not to do a news story either, but felt a column, perhaps, was needed to kill the rumor and to thank the sheriff for keeping everybody safe.

We also have published some informative reports on the health page this week. Check them out. — Jim Boyle, editor