NEW YORK – The United States is playing a game of Russian roulette by not closing its borders to the threat of Ebola from West Africa, contends a microbiology expert with 30 years experience in academics and private medical practice.
Dr. William Miller, author of the pioneering 2013 book “The Microcosm Within: Evolution and Extinction in the Hologenome,” said the establishment is on the wrong side of the issue.
“There seems to be a pushback against a travel ban by the media, national leaders and other persons of authority; yet everyone whom I speak to believes that we need to protect ourselves by every means,” said Miller in an exclusive WND interview.
“Am I the only voice that is willing to speak against current policy? I deeply feel that we are playing infectious-disease roulette.”
As WND reported Thursday, Dr. Thomas Frieden, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in his testimony before a House subcommittee, insisted the U.S. must not impose an air travel embargo on West Africa.
The first case of Ebola in the U.S. was Thomas Eric Duncan, who traveled by air from Liberia to Dallas before he had any evident symptoms of the disease.
On Friday, Washington-based watchdog group Judicial Watch announced the Obama administration is formulating plans to admit Ebola-infected foreigners into the U.S. for treatment.
Miller said that by “not imposing a travel ban to keep Ebola out of the country, the United States will be suffering a self-inflicted wound.”
“We have now seen the U.S. health-care system was unprepared and under-rehearsed for an outbreak of Ebola,” Miller said. “But what the CDC doesn’t understand is that that source of Ebola coming here is open-air travel.”
He explained an infectious disease “is a numbers game.”
“If we do whatever we can to reduce the incidence of a pathogen like Ebola making its way here on our soil, we are better off,” he said.
Miller rejected the Obama administration’s insistence that imposing enhanced screening at a select number of international airports in the U.S. will keep Ebola out of the country.
“Unfortunately, there may be some 13 percent of people who are infected with Ebola who have the ability to transmit the disease before they get a fever,” he noted.
“Yes, we can stop air travelers that show symptoms, but Ebola has a latency period of up to 21 days that it takes the virus to incubate,” he said.
“So, a person infected by Ebola can travel from West Africa and be perfectly well, showing no signs of infection.”
Miller pointed out that this was the exact set of circumstances that allowed Duncan – who lied on his exit questionnaire, saying he had no contact with Ebola victims – to leave Liberia and enter the United States through Dulles International Airport on a flight from Brussels. From there, he traveled to Dallas, apparently perfectly well, with Ebola symptoms not developing until several days after he reunited with friends and family members in Texas.
“What makes it more ironic is that Texas health officials have now decided that health-care workers that have contact with Ebola patients will not be allowed to travel on public transportation, including buses, trains and airplanes, during a quarantine period of some 21 days,” Miller said.
“So we are going to restrict our own citizens – Texas health-care workers who voluntarily agree to treat Ebola patients – to a quarantine where all they can do is work or stay in their homes, but at the same time we are going to allow people from Ebola-affected countries to enter the United States at will, provided they are not showing symptoms of the disease while they are traveling,” he said.
“That makes no sense whatsoever.”
Miller explained that a fundamental principle of epidemiology is to prevent a new infection from entering a pristine environment.
“We have to look at this from the perspective of assuming that Ebola becomes a terrifying epidemic in the United States, and we don’t want to have to look back and say the one thing we should have done to keep the disease from becoming a problem here was that the CDC should have imposed bans to restrict air travel,” he explained.
He called Ebola a “gruesome disease,” noting it has a 70 percent mortality rate.
“Our standard right now should be to do everything possible to protect the health and safety of the American people,” he said. “The United States will not be able to help other regions of the world suffering from Ebola if we first do not protect ourselves at home.”
Miller stressed the current air-travel procedures being implemented by the CDC and the Obama administration serve as an open invitation for Ebola-infected people to come to the U.S. for medical treatment, making it almost certain more Americans will be infected.
“Americans are good Samaritans by nature,” Miller observed, “and we don’t like closing our borders to anyone. But the problem we have to understand is that Ebola is a virulent disease that recognizes no boundaries of class distinction, ethnicity, language, race or religion.”
He concluded by insisting the U.S. has no rational choice other than to impose travel restrictions that have a high probability of keeping Ebola-infected foreigners from entering the country.
“If we are going to stop U.S. citizens that provide health care to Ebola patients from getting on public transportation whether they are sick from Ebola or not, we cannot continue to let international passengers from West Africa fly here freely as long as they don’t currently have a fever,” he said.
“It’s basically suicidal not to impose air-travel restrictions, and from the point of view of medical science, it’s crazy to think otherwise.”
‘Our borders are porous’
In the House subcommittee hearing Thursday, Chairman Rep. Tim Murphy, R-Pa., pressed Frieden on whether the Obama administration was going to adhere to the current policy of not restricting air travel from West Africa as well as allowing generally unscreened travel within the United States.
“We will consider any measures that we determine will protect the American people,” Frieden answered, dodging a direct answer to the question.
Rep. Fred Upton, R-Mich., unsatisfied with the response, continued pressing Frieden on why the U.S. has not imposed a travel ban on West Africa when as many as 30 African nations have done so.
“I don’t know all the details of what other countries are doing, and I understand that some of the policies in foreign nations are in flux,” Frieden responded.
“Right now, we know who is coming into the United States,” he argued.
“If we try to restrict air travel, people from West Africa may try to get into the United States by land. Our borders are porous, and if West Africans enter over land, we will not be able to monitor them for fever or to question them when they enter the country.”