We should stay vigilant against threats

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

The world has enjoyed instantaneous electronic communication since the invention of the Internet, but worldwide air travel has put physical "communication" close behind.

In the old days, crossing the ocean took days or weeks, meaning many diseases would have run their course by the time the carriers reached shore. Airline travel has cut transit time to the point that travelers may as well be beamed by Star Trek transporters.

Thus it was only a matter of time before Ebola was diagnosed in an American hospital -- a few previous cases were diagnosed elsewhere and brought here for special treatment, including one in an Omaha hospital.

Are we in for an Ebola epidemic in our country?

Probably not, the virus is only contracted through direct contact with the bodily fluids of someone who's actively sick with it, and it's not spread before symptoms are shown, or through the air.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has issued warnings about avoiding nonessential travel to Liberia -- the country from which the new patient came, to Texas -- as well as Sierra Leone and Guinea, and in those countries. In those countries as well as Nigeria, any patient with a fever is prevented from boarding an airliner until Ebola is ruled out.

But Ebola is not the only frightening disease out there.

In El Paso, a hospital employee exposed more than 700 patients and 40 employees to tuberculosis in the postpartum and newborn nursery of a hospital between September 2013 and August 2014. Five babies have tested positive for TB infection, but they are not considered to have active TB, the contagious and potentially fatal form of the disease. And, four received a vaccine that may be generating false positives.

In Colorado, health officials are looking into at least 10 cases where children developed limb weakness or paralysis after testing positive for a respiratory virus. All of them are under 21, and MRI scans of all 10 show lesions in the spinal column, with symptoms ranging from weakness in arms or legs to a total paralysis of a limb.

The thought of a return of a disease like Polio is a frightening thought for those who remember the days before vaccines were developed in the 1950s and early 1960s.

So is the return of tuberculosis -- ever seen the old TB hospital in Kearney -- years after public health efforts promoting vaccinations and the availabilities of effective antibiotics made it a thing of the past for most of us.

Unfortunately, misinformation about vaccines and simple neglect have made some populations more vulnerable to common childhood diseases.

And, while the "border kids" question is highly political, there are legitimate concerns about an influx of children who may be carrying some of those diseases.

Now's not the time to let down our guard, either at our borders, or against disease.

The border issue will be up to our political leaders. The vaccination issue is up to parents and their health providers.

Respond to this story

Posting a comment requires free registration: