Ebola could break into the United States through the unsecured U.S. border with Mexico, experts say.
“While we’ve seen no signs that Ebola virus has spread to our borders, it is very concerning,” Rep. Randy Weber (R-TX) told Breitbart News. “The border has still not been secured, and the President continues to wave the sign that our borders are open. There is no telling what might eventually make its way into the heartland, which should be concerning to all.”
Weber is a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee’s subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, Global Human Rights and International Organizations. That panel held a special hearing Thursday to examine the potential threat to the U.S. the African Ebola outbreak presents. During the hearing, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) director Tom Frieden downplayed the possibility Ebola could break into the U.S. via the Mexican border but did say that it is “inevitable” the U.S. would see some cases of the deadly virus though there wouldn’t be a massive outbreak.
“It is certainly possible that we could have ill people in the US who develop Ebola after having been exposed elsewhere,” Frieden testified. “But we are confident that there will not be a large Ebola outbreak in the US.”
However, a senate aide told Breitbart News Friday that Congress is monitoring the border for a potential Ebola outbreak. “Committee staff are in regular contact with CDC, [Customs and Border Protection], and other agencies to monitor the Ebola virus outbreak in Western Africa,” the Senate aide said. “Our porous southern border remains a major concern.”
Dr. Jane Orient, the executive director of the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons, said Americans should be concerned about this.
“It’s a question for which there are many unknowns,” Orient said in a phone interview. “We do know that people from affected areas of West Africa have been apprehended at the border in the last few years. I don’t know how recently it’s happened, and I don’t know how quickly someone could get here from there–so I don’t really know if there is any infected person who could survive long enough to cross the border, but the incubation period is as long as 21 days. Or if they are coming into Central America, then maybe they’re exposing other people who are then taking it here from there. Once you have one infected person, you could have a whole series of other contacts and so on.”
Orient said the risk of infectious disease spreading across the southern U.S. border is serious, adding that nefarious forces such as biological terrorists may try to exploit the virtually non-existent security along the U.S. border with Mexico to introduce a biological threat like Ebola into the United States.
“The point is we have thousands of people streaming across our southern border who have not been screened in any way for infectious disease, which would include Tuberculosis and a whole host of other things–not just Ebola,” she said. “But if you did want to try to introduce Ebola into the United States, this is one mechanism you might try to use.”
Shawn Moran, Vice President of the National Border Patrol Council, confirmed that “it’s definitely a threat” and said “we’re concerned with any type of infectious disease.”
“Unfortunately, the only type of training we get is from CBP [Customs and Border Protection], and it’s usually computer-based training and an hour in length,” Moran said when reached by phone on Friday. “We’ve had it in the past on I believe Avian flu, H1N1, on some of the signs of what to look for–and they provided gloves and respirators–but that’s about it in terms of preparation to deal with it.”
Moran said that the southern border and the northern border of the U.S. “definitely still are weak spots” when it comes to the transportation of infectious disease into the United States.
“We’re concerned about diseases coming across, we’re concerned about threats to America, physical terrorist threats and things like that–but where we’re focused on anti-terrorism. We’re not really focused on biological threats,” Moran said. “CBP could always do more to prepare to fight these things.”
Orient said the outbreak of Ebola in West Africa right now is “massive, and it’s horrible, and it’s going to lead to just dire consequences, and it could travel here by a whole lot of means–probably most likely by someone who was on an international flight out of West Africa, either the person himself or someone who got infected from him, either way.”
“Once you have an airplane that stops in West Africa, and then people transfer to other flights, it’s a major nightmare to try to figure out who all the contacts were,” Orient said.
“The border being insecure is a big threat of infectious disease getting into the United States, and I would think the worst threat from that standpoint is drug-resistant Tuberculosis,” she said, adding that Ebola’s most likely chances of getting into the U.S. would be “far and away” from an international flight.
Since the Ebola incubation period could be up to 21 days but is “probably more likely to be two weeks or less,” Orient said “it’s not impossible for someone to fly in from West Africa and get from Central America to the U.S. border within the incubation period. Maybe it’s not likely, but I can’t say that it’s impossible.”
Moran said that once people are leaving from Central America to head into the United States, “it really depends” how long it takes them to get to the U.S. border.
“It could be just a few days to over a month, depending on where you’re coming from and what your resources are,” Moran said. “The resources one is a big one. If you have the money, you could get here more quickly.
Moran added that people are coming from all over the world into the United States illegally. “We get people from all over,” Moran said. “We don’t discriminate, and we don’t care where you’re from. If you’re here illegally we’re going to arrest you and try to send you back. If you enter the U.S. illegally, the Border Patrol will arrest you–what happens after that is out of our control–but we’re going to make that initial arrest, it doesn’t matter if they’re from England, Central America, Ireland, Russia–whatever. If you were born in a different country and you don’t have papers to be here legally, you’re going to be arrested.”
“In any given month, you would probably find most of the countries on Earth represented in our arrest statistics,” Moran added.
A document the United Nations released recently found that people from Asia, Africa, and other far-flung regions of the world are using the same weak southern U.S. border to enter the United States as Central American and Mexican people are using. The document found that the U.S. border with Mexico is a “global pathway” to the United States for illegal aliens from Africa and elsewhere around the world.
Another internal report that Breitbart Texas’ Brandon Darby recently uncovered showed that at least 71 individuals from Ebola-affected countries have been caught illegally entering the U.S. or turned themselves in at the border between January and July 24.
“Among the significant revelations are that individuals from nations currently suffering from the world’s largest Ebola outbreak have been caught attempting to sneak across the porous U.S. border into the interior of the United States,” Darby wrote of the leaked CBP report. “At least 71 individuals from the three nations affected by the current Ebola outbreak have either turned themselves in or been caught attempting to illegally enter the U.S. by U.S. authorities between January 2014 and July 2014.”
If an Ebola outbreak hit the United States, Orient said she doesn’t “see any evidence we are prepared for this,” adding that “we’ve really been in denial about the potential threat of big epidemics here, except influenza has been taken seriously. But the other big threat is of biological warfare, which of course has been a concern for decades–the United States has previously done defensive research and probably some offensive research as well, but I don’t think it has taken seriously the possibility it could happen here. We certainly don’t have very good quarantine or isolation facilities to handle it, and we have been focusing much of our research and surveillance on non-threats and not paying attention to potential extremists or people who could be a martyr who could come with infectious organisms rather than with explosives. I mean, you don’t even actually have to be infected yourself–you could bring infected body fluids on an airplane or across the border, and the virus may survive in those fluids for a period of time, we’re not sure how long.”
“We need to understand that the United States has many enemies in the world right now, and there are many means of attacking us that, if they were successful, would be absolutely devastating,” Orient added.
To stop an outbreak ahead of time, Orient said that “first we need to recognize the existence of the problem.”
“People often say why worry about the illegal immigrants when it may come from legal immigrants who came here legally,” Orient continued. “Certainly that’s a good question, except with lawful people, the airplanes have a manifest, and they know who comes in. So identifying the people, knowing their destination, doing the contacting of them may be difficult but it’s not impossible. With illegals, you have no idea who the people are, where they come from, what the state of their health is, or where they’re going–that just magnifies the problem many-fold. There are many ways of screening people if they come through Customs–there are visual screenings of if they look sick, there are monitors that can check body temperature remotely where you don’t have to stick a thermometer in somebody’s mouth, and that’s been used at least in some foreign countries to keep people who may be in early stages of influenza from boarding an aircraft. Or you could do what we used to do for decades, which is quarantine all new legal immigrants into the country for a period of time that’s thought to be necessary to see if they’re incubating a deadly disease. If there’s an Ebola threat, then there would be a difference based on what disease is out there and where people are coming from. None of these are perfect, but at least they give us a chance of identifying potential threats without preventing people from coming into the U.S. when it is appropriate for them to come here.”