The current Ebola outbreak has been the largest in history. The Ebola virus, also known as the Ebola hemorrhagic fever, has a fatality rate of up to 90%. Ebola can only be transmitted through direct contact with infected bodily fluids, so it is less contagious than airborne viruses. However, it is possible to still transmit the virus up to 7 weeks after the patient has recovered. The victim is not infectious until symptoms develop, which occurs between 2-21 days after exposure. Early symptoms include fever, headache, and muscle pains, which later develop into more serious symptoms including impaired liver and kidney functions and internal bleeding. As of October 3, 2014, the current outbreak has included 7,492 total cases and 3,439 deaths. Liberia, Guinea, and Sierra Leone are the most severely affected by Ebola.
Due to the severity of the disease, many countries have banned travel to and from Ebola-stricken countries. Additionally, many airlines, including Air France and British Airways, have suspended flights to and from these countries. Currently, America does not have any of these travel restrictions in place. But should it? The recent case of Thomas Duncan suggests that such a travel ban might be necessary.
On September 20, 2014, Thomas Eric Duncan arrived in Dallas, Texas from Liberia. Four days prior to his trip, Duncan helped transport a sick woman infected with the Ebola virus. Prior to departing from Liberia, Duncan had his temperature taken and answered “no” to a survey asking if he had been in contact with anyone infected with the virus.
On September 25, 2014, Duncan went to a Dallas hospital because he felt ill. He told hospital staff that he had just arrived from Liberia. However, the message did not make it to all who were treating him, and he was sent home with antibiotics. Two days later, his condition had worsened so much that Duncan needed an ambulance to be taken back to the same hospital. This time he was diagnosed with Ebola, but he had already violently vomited outside and come in direct contact with at least 18 people, 5 of them children.
Since Duncan’s case emerged, more Americans have been monitored for the Ebola virus throughout the country. Over 100 people are being monitored for direct or indirect contact with Duncan in Dallas, Texas. Up to 80 Penn State students were being monitored for the virus after traveling to areas near the Ebola virus outbreak in West Africa. A Houston, Texas patient is also being monitored after becoming ill following returning from Ebola infected areas. A Washington D.C. patient exhibiting “Ebola-like symptoms” was monitored upon returning from Nigeria. An NBC cameraman who tested positive for Ebola left Liberia and is the second patient to be treated for Ebola at Nebraska Medical Center.
In the weeks following Duncan’s case, new measures were put in place throughout the country to slow the spread of the disease. Additional airport screening procedures, such as “entry screenings,” will now be implemented for passengers traveling from Ebola-infected countries. These additional measures include passengers having their temperatures taken before and after their flight. It is debatable, however, if these additional procedures would have any effect.
Thirty-five countries, including America, are only one flight away from Ebola infected countries. There are three major airports in the United States where direct flights from Ebola infected nations can arrive: New York, Atlanta, and Houston. However, it can take from two to twenty-one days for symptoms to present themselves after exposure to the virus, so it is possible to be exposed and travel before becoming aware that someone has contracted the disease. In response to these difficulties, at least 14 countries have banned or suspended travel to and from Ebola infected nations and at least 10 major airlines have suspended flights to these areas.
When polled, 58% of Americans support a temporary flight ban to Ebola-stricken areas, versus 24% who do not support such a ban. In fact, a White House petition has been created calling for a travel ban. Banning American airlines from traveling to certain areas is not is not unheard of: in July 2014, there was a temporary flight ban to Israel from the United States. President Obama cited the need for the travel ban in order to ensure that Israel completed a checklist of concerns to convince the Federal Aviation Administration that it was safe to travel there.
Based on President Obama and the FAA’s past actions in places such as Israel, it seems logical that such a ban should be in place until the concerns about Americans’ health and safety–both in Ebola-stricken nations and back home–have been addressed and alleviated.