Nathan Deal's administration defends 'water kills the Ebola virus' remark

Gov. Nathan Deal's allies went into rapid-response mode after Democrats started mocking the governor's assertion that "water kills the Ebola virus."

Deal made those remarks at a meeting with the Marietta Daily Journal's editorial board, an account of which was published over the weekend. The governor said he met with Dr. Brenda Fitzgerald, the commissioner of the state Department of Public Health, and several other medical officials to ensure the state is prepared to respond to the virus.

Deal told the paper:

“And their conclusion was that we are in pretty good shape here in Georgia,” Deal said. “They have reached out to all of the hospitals. They are continuing to reach out to EMTs, first responders, to make sure that they know how to react in the event they have somebody who is a potential case of Ebola. The most comforting thing that I heard from [Fitzgerald] was that water kills the Ebola virus. I’ve never heard that before. I thought it was something that was so contagious there wasn’t much you could do to prevent it or anything else, so her advice was ‘wash your hands.’”

It didn't take long for Deal's critics to try to poke holes in his analysis of the deadly virus. Dr. Ford Vox, a Shepherd Center physician and outspoken critic of the governor, said Deal's argument "doesn't hold water" and that Deal shouldn't give the public the impression that "Ebola bows to good old H20."

"Hand washing helps by washing away a lot of the virus," he said. "While water can kill Ebola in a petri dish, that's not practically relevant in health cases."

Deal spokesman Brian Robinson said the governor left the campaign trail to ensure there's a plan in place for health officials and emergency responders in case an Ebola infection pops up here.

"He's by no means downplaying the danger," said Robinson. "On the contrary, he's making sure Georgians are educated on the issue and prepared."

Shortly after, we heard from Fitzgerald, who was appointed to the post by Deal. She pointed to World Health Organization guidelines that said washing hands with soap and water can help prevent contamination, and pointed to media reports that showed Ebola can only survive a few minutes in water.

"Does water kill it? Yes," she said. "But once it gets in your body, it's mean."

Her department later sent out a news release outlining its efforts to monitor and coordinate testing for suspected Ebola cases. State law, it noted, empowers Fitzgerald's agency to isolate or quarantine those suspected of contracting the virus.

“We are working to ensure that all of Georgia knows what to look for, what questions to ask, and what to do,” she said in the release.

About the Author

Greg Bluestein
Greg Bluestein
Greg Bluestein is a political reporter who covers the governor's office and state politics for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.