The PJ Tatler

Is 'Ebola Tourism' Going to Become a Thing Now?

Ebola Patient Zero, Thomas Eric Duncan, traveled from the hot zone in Liberia to the United States four days after he knew that he had been exposed to the deadly Ebola virus. Not only did he know that he had been exposed, he knew that the person who exposed him had died of the virus. There was no doubt about that.

Duncan did a brave and noble thing, actually, when he carried her to a hospital as she was convulsing with the disease. When the hospital turned her away, because its Ebola facility was full and had no place for her, he helped her get back home, where she died.

Having done a noble thing, Duncan then did a terrible thing. He traveled from Liberia to Brussels to Washington, DC to Dallas, Texas. He was asymptomatic at that point, and the science on Ebola says that it cannot yet spread when a carrier doesn’t show any symptoms. But he surely knew that he very probably was a carrier, yet he told no one. Even when he went to Texas Presbyterian Hospital in Dallas nearly a week after his exposure, he did not tell anyone about his exposure. He did tell a nurse that he had recently traveled from Liberia, but did not reveal his exposure to Ebola.

He is sent home, and two days go by, and then he has to go back to the hospital. At this point, he has symptoms and therefore he is contagious. Duncan is seen vomiting on the ground outside, as he is getting into the ambulance to go back to the hospital.

Vomit is a known means of spreading Ebola.

DALLAS — Two days after he was sent home from a Dallas hospital, the first person to be diagnosed with Ebola in the U.S. was seen vomiting on the ground outside an apartment complex as he was bundled into an ambulance. “His whole family was screaming. He got outside and he was throwing up all over the place,” resident Mesud Osmanovic, 21, said on Wednesday, describing the chaotic scene before Thomas Eric Duncan was admitted to Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital on Sunday.

If that account is true, then Duncan exposed a number of people to Ebola, including children during the two days he stayed with family. Four Dallas schools are impacted, and families are justifiably concerned about that. In fact, he exposed North America to Ebola by flying here when he knew that he had been exposed to it. The only previous cases in the current outbreak had been flown here from the outbreak zone specifically for treatment, and they were transported in special aircraft outfitted for containing contagious disease. There was no risk that those two, American medical missionaries, would infect anyone else. Both have recovered fully.

Air France has suspended flights from the Ebola outbreak zone, in order to protect its own employees. British Airways has already suspended flights similarly, but what about US air carriers? The Obama administration is keeping all flights going at this point, which means more Thomas Eric Duncans can get exposed to Ebola and still fly here, while showing no symptoms until after they arrive. Duncan himself flew here on United Airlines. The CDC says there is zero chance that anyone on those planes with Duncan were exposed, because Duncan was asymptomatic at that point.

But as others have pointed out, even if the FAA suspends all flights from the outbreak zone, we will have to rely on other countries including Mexico and Canada, and countries across Asia and the Pacific, or our ban may achieve nothing. Why? Because of the porous border, first. Even with Ebola raging, President Obama intends to keep the border as porous as it is now. Or at least, he has shown absolutely no interest in securing it. As long as it is insecure, someone could fly or take a ship from the outbreak zone to either Canada or Mexico and then just walk across the border into the United States. And there are incentives to do so. The United States has the best quality healthcare in the world, and showing up at an emergency room guarantees access. Our hospitals are not overrun with Ebola patients as hospitals in the outbreak zone are.

Not only does Obama intend to keep the border as it is, he intends to grant a sweeping amnesty to illegal aliens by executive order, after the mid-term elections. That promise and that action will prompt more people to cross illegally, on the understanding that once they’re here, the current government will be extremely unlikely to send them home.

The problem is by no means limited to the continental United States or the US-Mexico border.

Hawaii is a destination for tourists worldwide who want to visit America and get a taste for the tropical and exotic. It’s one of the most beautiful places on earth. And there may be an Ebola case there.

The Hawaii Nurses Association said the person is being treated at The Queen’s Medical Center.

Officials told KHON2 Ebola is a possibility, however the patient has yet to be specifically tested for the virus.

“We are early in the investigation of a patient — very, very early — who we’re investigating that might have Ebola,” said Dr. Melissa Viray, deputy state epidemiologist. “It’s very possible that they do and they have Ebola. I think it’s also more likely that they have another condition that presents with similar symptoms.”

Dr. Viray said the patient could have a number of illnesses including Ebola, flu, malaria and typhoid.

The person reportedly recently traveled to west Africa, which is one of the reasons for isolating them, and they now have a fever. At this point, we know nothing else about them, their travel, or even if they have Ebola. It’s very early in that case.

Hawaii is beautiful, and as a part of the United States, it also offers world class healthcare. Its hospitals are not overrun with Ebola patients either.

Returning to Duncan’s travels, it’s clear that he knew he had been exposed to Ebola before he ever boarded the flights that brought him to the US. It’s evident, though not proven and may never be, that he came here knowing he had been exposed and that he came here knowing that he could get treatment here that he could not get in Liberia. Remember, his friend had been turned away from the local hospital because its Ebola ward was full. That’s what the headline on this post means — Duncan traveled here “because he had Ebola” — he knew from his own exposure that he probably had the virus, and came to the US for treatment.

We’re relying on the honor system here. Every flight coming from the outbreak zone could be carrying another Thomas Eric Duncan — someone aware that they have been exposed, but who can get through airport checks because they’re asymptomatic, who are traveling to the US, or Europe, or elsewhere with quality medical systems, to get treatment they cannot get at home — thereby exposing new regions, countries and continents to a disease is difficult to transmit and that can be contained where it is currently rampant. If they do what Duncan did, and fail to inform anyone along their travels and the first medical personnel they come into contact with that they have been exposed to Ebola, then we are likely to have big, big problems.

And that’s without it going airborne, which may yet happen.

The current Ebola virus’s hyper-evolution is unprecedented; there has been more human-to-human transmission in the past four months than most likely occurred in the last 500 to 1,000 years. Each new infection represents trillions of throws of the genetic dice.

If certain mutations occurred, it would mean that just breathing would put one at risk of contracting Ebola. Infections could spread quickly to every part of the globe, as the H1N1 influenza virus did in 2009, after its birth in Mexico.

Why are public officials afraid to discuss this? They don’t want to be accused of screaming “Fire!” in a crowded theater — as I’m sure some will accuse me of doing. But the risk is real, and until we consider it, the world will not be prepared to do what is necessary to end the epidemic.

In 2012, a team of Canadian researchers proved that Ebola Zaire, the same virus that is causing the West Africa outbreak, could be transmitted by the respiratory route from pigs to monkeys, both of whose lungs are very similar to those of humans.