Top U.S. general says Ebola outbreak coming through Central America is real threat

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A top U.S. general admitted that a potential Ebola outbreak in Central America is a real threat to the United States and a scenario which could result in a mass migration across the U.S./Mexico border, as thousands would attempt to flee the deadly virus.

“The immediate thing that really keeps me up awake at night, I tell you, it’s the Ebola issue,” said Marine Corps Gen. John F. Kelly, the commander of U.S. Southern Command, to an audience at the National Defense University on Tuesday. “There’s no way you can keep Ebola in West Africa.”

It’s a startling statement from Kelly who, as the man responsible for all U.S. military activities in South and Central America and the Caribbean, oversees a slew of serious issues from human trafficking to drug trade. During the videotaped event, the general said that many countries in Western hemisphere have “no ability” to deal with an outbreak of this sort, and much like we are seeing in West Africa, the disease “would rage for some period of time.”

“If Ebola breaks into Haiti, and Central America, I think it is literally ‘Katie bar the door’ in terms of the mass migration of Central Americans into the United States,” Kelly said, of the thousands he foresees fleeing countries like Honduras, El Salvaldor and Guatemala if an Ebola outbreak there were to occur. “These populations will move to either run away from Ebola or, in the fear of having been infected, to get to the United States, where it would be taken care of.”

The general added, “If there is an outbreak in the Caribbean, particularly in Central America, it would make the 68,000 unaccompanied children, I think, look like a small problem.”

The U.S. Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) held a meeting on the issue Wednesday at its headquarters in D.C. When reached out by Fox News Latino, they directed all questions on Ebola to the Department of Homeland Security, which did not respond at the time of this article.

The U.S. State Department has not responded to Fox News Latino either regarding the general’s Ebola concerns.

The Centers for Disease Control estimates 1.4 million people will become infected with Ebola in West Africa by January of 2015, with a 52 percent fatality rate – a statistic Kelly called “horrific.”

For weeks now, the CDC and the U.S. government have concentrated on containing the Ebola outbreak in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone through airport screenings. Airline passengers traveling from the region are getting checked for fevers, a symptom of Ebola.

"If Ebola breaks into Haiti, and Central America, I think it is literally 'Katie bar the door' in terms of the mass migration of Central Americans into the United States."

— Marine Corps Gen. John F. Kelly

But airport screenings do little to stop the robust sex trade and human trafficking business operating through a decentralized but efficient criminal network that carries hundreds of tons of drugs, weapons, money, and people through Latin America into the U.S.

“We see a lot of West Africans moving on that network. Sex slaves,” said Kelly, who emphasized that of the people captured along the southwest border “a very large percentage of them are West Africans.”

While on a trip to Costa Rica a couple of weeks ago, Kelly said, one of his staffers at the embassy told him of a case he witnessed firsthand of West Africans traveling freely and illegally toward the United States. The embassy person said that in a recent visit to the northern border he walked over to five or six men who were waiting in line to cross to Nicaragua and, in a casual conversation, found out they were from Liberia and had been on the road for about a week, on their way to New York City.

“They had flown through Trinidad and then met up with traffickers,” Kelly explained. “They could have made it into New York City and still be within the incubation period of Ebola. I’ve highlighted this issue in Washington.”

A CBP report published online earlier this week on 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.

Ebola symptoms can take up to 21 days to appear in an infected person, at which time the person is contagious.

Still, Carl Meacham, the director of the Americas program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, told Fox News Latino that, while he doesn’t disagree with the general’s assessment, he believes an Ebola outbreak in Central America is unlikely because the region has no significant West African communities.

“The likelihood of it coming to Central America and Haiti at this point is very small,” Meacham said.

There is a West African population in Northeast Brazil, but Meacham says Brazil is in a better place to deal with a possible outbreak than countries nearer to the U.S. border.

Meanwhile, the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) is urging countries of the Americas not to underestimate Ebola and to be vigilant, especially at points of entry and throughout the health system. PAHO serves as the Regional Office for the Americas of the World Health Organization.

In Argentina, the Ministry of Health has already marked “Ebola Only” specialty hospitals, Chile has established contingency plans, and Ecuador, Venezuela, Honduras and Panama reportedly have plans in place to stop a possible spread of Ebola.

"There is no sign yet that the epidemic has reached a plateau," said Marcos Espinal, director of Communicable Diseases at PAHO, on Sept. 26. "The next few weeks will be key.”