Ebola and Air Travel

ID-100153388One of the most controversial questions during the current Ebola outbreak has been whether restricting air travel to West Africa is more of a help or a hindrance. There have been passionate arguments on both sides, and the question has become politicized. For a balanced look at the question, see this recent National Geographic article. I found some of the better comments on this piece to be nearly as enlightening as the article itself. The bottom line is that there are pros and cons to both policies, which need to be acknowledged by each side in the debate.

There is also some good news. A Dallas police office who visited the Ebola patient’s apartment to deliver a quarantine notice does not seem to be suffering from Ebola, as news reports yesterday suggested. Still, his case continues to raise issues around preparedness: Why would the officer have been sent to deliver the notice without protective gear, even though he entered the apartment? This speaks to a fundamental lack of communication. The fact that public health authorities had so much difficulty disposing of materials from the apartment also points to the need for standardized procedures and policies, which are adopted in advance of an Ebola patient’s identification.

There are similar questions about preparedness elsewhere such as Spain, where a nurse caring for one Ebola patient became infected, despite wearing protective suit. There are now questions being raised about the design of this particular suit, although it also seems that she may have made a mistake and touched her face with a gloved hand. Sadly, her conditioning is currently worsening. According to some news reports, she only learned that she might have Ebola when she read media reports; again, this points to a fundamental breakdown of communication regarding the virus. Now two doctors who helped to care for her have also entered hospital for observation. Much as with MERS earlier this year, medical professionals seem to be those most at risk. Meanwhile, there were also massive online protests in Spain after health authorities decided to destroy the Ebola patient’s dog. Despite the public outcry, the dog was put down. Let us hope that the current vaccine trials for Ebola prove successful. As always, my thoughts are with medical personnel acting heroically in affected nations.

Shawn Smallman, Portland State University

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