Liberia to prosecute man who brought Ebola to the U.S.

I hope Duncan gets well soon, partly for his own sake and partly because I’m keen to hear why he didn’t mention to airport screeners that he helped carry an Ebola victim a few days before his flight.

So is the Liberian government.

On the form obtained by The Associated Press and confirmed by a government official, Thomas Eric Duncan answered “no” to questions about whether he had cared for an Ebola patient or touched the body of someone who had died in an area affected by Ebola…

At the time Duncan left for the U.S., it’s not clear if he knew of the woman’s diagnosis. Officials have said Duncan was showing no symptoms when he boarded the plane and he was therefore not contagious. Ebola can only be spread through the bodily fluids of people showing signs of the disease.

“He will be prosecuted” when he returns to Liberia, Binyah Kesselly, chairman of the board of directors of the Liberia Airport Authority, told reporters.

He said that people like Duncan and Patrick Sawyer, a Liberian-American with Ebola who traveled to Nigeria and infected people there, have brought a “stigma” upon Liberians living abroad.

He had no inkling that a woman who was sick too walk in the middle of an Ebola outbreak in Liberia might have Ebola? That should have warranted at least a “possibly” on the ol’ questionnaire, huh?

Two points here. One: Unless I’ve missed something, apart from the questionnaire, the only test for whether passengers from west Africa might be carrying Ebola is a temperature reading on their foreheads, which will be useless in many cases (like Duncan’s) since some people with the disease aren’t symptomatic yet during their travels. The Times calls the system, with precious understatement, “spotty.” If the screening is as weak as that and a ban on flights from west Africa is out of the question for whatever reason, why on earth did Obama say it was “unlikely” that we’d end up with Ebola cases here? Seems like a lead-pipe cinch that we would end up with them. Eventually, someone who was sick but asymptomatic would lie about his contact with a victim and get on a plane. Frankly, I’d be surprised if the weak screening has blocked many people with Ebola from getting on flights. Presumably a few have been pulled out of line because they’re running a fever, but how many of those people had the disease and how many had high body temperatures for more mundane reasons?

Two: Should Duncan be prosecuted? Ace worries that if you throw jail time into the mix, Liberians who fear they might have Ebola will panic and become more determined to conceal their symptoms, putting the people around them at risk. I can understand that as a matter of Liberian domestic policy; you want people to feel as comfortable as possible in reporting their symptoms so that you can treat them (and isolate them) ASAP. But you also don’t want them getting on planes, and the prospect of jail time if they decide to fly when they fear they might be infected would deter that. No? What am I missing here?

Oh, by the way, Duncan did tell the staff at the hospital in Dallas that he’d just come from Liberia when he first showed up sick to the ER last week. They sent him home with antibiotics.