With a number of prominent conservative politicians raising fears that the Ebola outbreak could spread to the U.S. via the country’s porous borders with Mexico and Canada, Customs and Border Protection and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention sought to reassure a worried public that they are doing everything they can to monitor people entering the U.S. – whether legally or illegally – for the virus.
“CBP and the CDC have closely coordinated to develop policies, procedures, and protocols to identify travelers that are known by U.S. public health officials to have a communicable disease and to handle in a manner that minimizes risk to the public,” Jennifer Evanitsky, a spokeswoman for the CBP told Fox News Latino in an emailed statement.
The CBP’s statement comes after Republican senator and prospective GOP presidential candidate Rand Paul raised fears that infected individuals could enter the country through the U.S.-Mexico border, stoking more concern in states like Texas where Thomas Eric Duncan became the first American to bring the virus to the country.
The “border is not only a danger for national security purposes, it is also a danger for a worldwide pandemic should it occur,” Paul told talk show host Glenn Beck.
A CBP report published online earlier this week on Breitbart.com broke down where undocumented immigrants are coming from and, between January and July of this year, at least 71 people reportedly arrived from the three West African nations hit with the current Ebola outbreak.
Republican Rep. Phil Gingrey of Georgia wrote to the head of the CDC last month about his fears that undocumented immigrants are carrying "swine flu, dengue fever, Ebola virus and tuberculosis” into the U.S.
"As the unaccompanied children continue to be transported to shelters around the country on commercial airlines and other forms of transportation, I have serious concerns that the diseases carried by these children may begin to spread too rapidly to control," he wrote.
While the CBP did not mention in its statement how it plans to monitor undocumented immigrants for the virus, the agency did say that it has been on the watch for anyone showing overt signs of the illness and all officers have been trained on how to identify a prospective Ebola patient.
“When a traveler or alien is identified with a possible communicable disease or identified from information that is received from the CDC, CBP personnel will take the appropriate safety measures by donning personal protective equipment, to include gloves and surgical masks, which are readily available for use in the course of their duties,” Evanitsky said. “The traveler would be isolated from the traveling public while the CDC and local public health authorities conduct an evaluation.”
New fears that the Ebola outbreak could spread in the U.S. arose after Duncan became the first person to show symptoms of the virus inside the U.S.
Duncan left for the U.S. on Sept. 19 to visit family and became sick a few days after he arrived. He is currently in isolation at a hospital in Dallas, Texas, and is listed as being in serious but stable condition.
Days before he left Liberia, Duncan had helped carry to a taxi a pregnant woman who later died of Ebola, according to neighbors. Her illness at the time was believed to be pregnancy-related.
The disease is believed to have sickened more than 7,100 people in West Africa and killed more than 3,300, according to the World Health Organization.
Despite the worries that travelers will carry the virus across the globe, a spokesman for the United Nations secretary-general has warned that air travel to and from the West African countries affected by the Ebola virus should continue despite the first reported case in the United States.
Stephane Dujarric told reporters Thursday that "it's very important not to isolate these countries" as it would worsen their political and economic situations. He says aid groups need access to the region.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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