Columns

Grapengeter-Rudnick ’17: Ebola in the United States — should we worry?

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Opinions Columnist

Right now it seems most of the country is suffering from hypochondria — Americans have an unwarranted fear that they are infected with a disease. The arrival of Ebola in the United States has people clearing their throats and rushing to emergency rooms claiming near death. Is this an overreaction?

Yes, sniffling and writing one’s will is entirely an overreaction. At this point, it is rather unlikely that these scattered criers have actually contracted the virus because, to our knowledge, the disease has been contained well in the states. But I believe this so-called overreaction may be justified. Americans may indeed have the right to be paranoid when one considers how the virus intruded its way into our previously healthy country and when one thinks about who may or may not be culpable. The channels that allowed the disease into the country in the first place may be the same ones that allow it to spread.

The Liberian man who is responsible for bringing the dreaded disease to Dallas, Texas, Thomas Duncan, did not make it all the way here by fault of airport security or American customs. He and his virus got here because he lied.

By perfectly warranted precaution, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control performed a routine screening at the airport in Monrovia. Duncan was cleared with a normal temperature, but was also asked “on a form whether he had been exposed to anyone with Ebola in the past 21 days,” the New York Times reported. This requirement, imposed by airport authorities concerned about aiding the spread of the virus, should be completely adequate. Further investigation would be overbearing and highly challenging, and thus should not be necessary — so long as travelers are honest.

Mr. Duncan was not. According to the Liberia Airport Authority, he answered “no” to this portion of the questionnaire, a blatant lie considering he apparently physically carried a woman dying of Ebola just days earlier.

Does this make him a criminal? Or is he just a human who was eager to get to America where he could be with his son?

The city of Dallas is debating whether or not to press charges, which is a valid consideration. From a criminal standpoint, this one man in his thoughtlessness managed to endanger an entire country.

If Duncan is to be classified as a criminal and take the blame, then one also has to consider other possible offenders in this case, because they do exist.

The manifestation of this disease in the United States can also be attributed to the careless health workers at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital. After Duncan’s first visit to the emergency room, nurses and doctors sent him home — to further contaminate others — with a mere plastic bag of antibiotics. At his visit, health workers asked him about his medical history. They “had access to the information that he had arrived from Liberia but failed to act on it,” the Times reported.

Beyond blaming the carrier of the disease and the hospital workers who could have prevented its extension, people are also pointing fingers at airport staff. Still, focusing on airport policies is not worthwhile  as doing so cannot adequately counter individual carelessness.

There are no further measures the African and U.S. airports can take besides checking for fevers and other symptoms of the disease. Duncan would not be compelled to lie any less at one airport rather than another, and the Ebola incubation period is 21 days anyway. It is still possible to carry the disease unknowingly and pass a health checkpoint.

To avoid this possibility, some are calling for a ban on American travel to certain countries in West Africa, but President Obama said this would restrict aid flights, making such a strategy counterproductive. Additionally, such a ban would be ineffective unless it were overly extensive. Many infected travelers may be flying through other countries and continents, but banning those flights as well is simply not doable.

If further attempts to curb the spread of this disease cannot come from airport health checkpoints, then how can the spread of the disease be stopped? Ebola can be contained only through diligence and consideration for others. The lack thereof from those in proximity to the disease will make it that much harder to stop the epidemic.

Americans have every right to be paranoid even though the spread of the disease is supposedly unlikely. If such irresponsibility becomes a trend, who is to say that the whole U.S. population cannot contract Ebola?

 

 

Megan Grapengeter-Rudnick ’17 can be reached at megan_grapengeter-rudnick@brown.edu.

  • MD/PhD Candidate

    “He and his virus got here because he lied.”

    I’m assuming Heathrow is using the same questionnaire we do? According to this image: http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-29616724 it would be very easy for Duncan to answer incorrectly without lying. If he didn’t know that she had ebola or didn’t know that the woman was seriously ill or more importantly, ill from something other than a pregnancy complication, then it would be very easy for him to check no in both boxes without lying. There has so far been no evidence to support

    Texas presbyterian’s medical team sent the man home despite having all the ebola red flags and a nurse who took care of him travels to ohio and there’s no statement from the texas DA about pressing charges against them but we’re going to talk about potentially charging a random man for lying on his forms even though there’s no evidence to support the claim he knew he was lying?