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Opinion: US should monitor people who treat Ebola patients

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A nurse flew from Cleveland to Dallas a day before she was isolated for Ebola, a few days after a patient she took care of died of Ebola and a day after one of her colleagues was tested positively for Ebola. She was in direct contact with a highly infective disease, and still flew around the U.S. 

A few weeks ago, politicians were arguing on imposing travel bans on affected countries in West Africa.

Why, in one of the medically most advanced countries, are people who had direct contact with Ebola during their work allowed to fly through the country during their incubation period?

Wouldn’t it make some sort of common sense to monitor those treating Ebola patients, without giving them the ability to fly around and geographically spread the virus? This becomes even more of a problem when security procedures might not have been 100 percent secure.

Thomas Frieden, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said Wednesday “she should not have flown on a commercial airline.” Well, why isn’t it standard procedure to keep a close eye on those in direct contact with the virus?

Because of fear Africans could import the disease, the U.S. and the U.K. have started screenings at airports for flights from impacted countries. It is a sad truth — we only really started caring about Ebola when it spread to the West.

“Staff being dispatched to Ebola affected regions follow very strict safety procedures before, during and after their assignment,” said Brice de le Vingne, director of operations with the humanitarian organization Médecins Sans Frontières, in a statement Oct. 6.

If a nonprofit organization enforces strict procedures after assignments, why doesn’t the CDC do so? Is it because Ebola spreads only in what are thought of as uncivilized countries in West Africa?

Western medical systems are better equipped to handle an outbreak like Ebola. Still, it is now clear: Ebola does not only spread in far-away Africa. It does spread in the U.S., as it does in Europe. Believing “we” are superior, in any way, only makes the response to the outbreak less effective. Before thinking of travel bans for whole countries, we might need to reconsider why people who had direct contact with the virus are allowed to fly.

Health care workers should be closely monitored for 21 days after their last contact with Ebola. They should not be allowed to travel and they should be very careful in their daily lives.

It’s not common sense to enable people directly in contact with the virus to move around the country. It is true that those healthcare workers had protective gear while working, but we all should have known that every safety procedure has its failures. The case of the infected Spanish nurse proved this. The U.S. still kept the same procedures, without being willing to learn.

To make it clear: this is not about arguing that every health care worker should be isolated for 21 days; it is not about saying that Ebola is about to spread all over the U.S.; it is only about questioning procedures, challenging arrogant policies, learning from errors and applying a good portion of common sense.

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