This really shouldn’t surprise anyone. If meager prospects for employment at home lead scores of Central American parents to send their children on a perilous thousand-mile journey north alone or with vile human traffickers, the likelihood of imminent, horrific, mass death will surely have the same effect. At least, that is what some in the Pentagon apparently believe.
Via The Weekly Standard, Department of Defense News reported on Wednesday that Marine Corps Gen. John F. Kelly, the commander of the U.S. Southern Command, fears that the self-evident ability of the American medical system to successfully cope with Ebola will lead millions of Central American residents to make refugees of themselves and head toward the United States.
Kelly said that, if Ebola did reach Central America, it is likely to expect the virus to expand exponentially and to “rage” as it has in West Africa where officials now believe up to 1.4 million may contract the disease before 2015.
This is particularly possible scenario if the disease gets to Haiti or Central America, he said. If the disease gets to countries like Guatemala, Honduras or El Salvador, it will cause a panic and people will flee the region, the general said.
“If it breaks out, it’s literally, ‘Katie bar the door,’ and there will be mass migration into the United States,” Kelly said. “They will run away from Ebola, or if they suspect they are infected, they will try to get to the United States for treatment.”
Also, transnational criminal networks smuggle people and those people can be carrying Ebola, the general said. Kelly spoke of visiting the border of Costa Rica and Nicaragua with U.S. embassy personnel. At that time, a group of men “were waiting in line to pass into Nicaragua and then on their way north,” he recalled.
Health officials have sought to halt the spread of the disease by preventing air passengers from traveling out of West African nations if they are symptomatic or have a fever of 101.5 degrees or more. If those symptoms are not present, officials have said, the risk of transcontinental transmission via airliner is minimal.
Some public health officials are, however, voicing concerns that this particular new strain of the hemorrhagic fever is unpredictable and evolving rapidly. Furthermore, prospective air travelers from any of the affected West African areas know they are being screened and can easily mask their own symptoms in the early stages of infection.
“A person could pass body temperature checks performed at the airports by taking ibuprofen or any common analgesic,” The Los Angeles Times revealed on Tuesday. “And prospective passengers have much to fear from identifying themselves as sick, said Kim Beer, a resident of Freetown, the capital of Sierra Leone, who is working to get medical supplies into the country to cope with Ebola.”
The potential disincentive for passengers to reveal their own symptoms was echoed by Sheka Forna, a dual citizen of Sierra Leone and Britain who manages a communications firm in Freetown. Forna said he considered it “very possible” that people with fever would medicate themselves to appear asymptomatic.
It would be perilous to admit even nonspecific symptoms at the airport, Forna said in a telephone interview. “You’d be confined to wards with people with full-blown disease.”
The news that a Spanish nurse contracted the virus outside of the West African hot zone and through only minimal contact with an infected patient raises the concerns that this Ebola outbreak could bloom into a pandemic.