Wednesday, July 23, 2014
Close to 60,000 children have crossed illegally into the U.S. since last October. They've sparked a crisis. But is it a humanitarian crisis or a public health one?
The children carry "swine flu, dengue fever, Ebola virus, and tuberculosis," and can spread the diseases to the U.S., wrote Rep. Phil Gingrey, R-Ga., a retired obstetrician-gynecologist, in a July 7 letter to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Gingrey's concerns have been widely circulated as part of a public campaign by folks who share his view that the kids should be sent back. And some of the points he's raised have been widely rebuffed. The current Ebola outbreak has been confined to Africa, as have past outbreaks. And neither dengue nor the "kissing bug" disease known as Chagas, which was brought up by others, spread from human to human. Transmission involves bugs and dogs.
A TB epidemic is perhaps one of the biggest concerns, since the U.S. doesn't vaccinate against the disease. The fear of a fatal respiratory disease that attacks the lungs and can spread through the air is understandable. But it's worth keeping in mind that in 2012, the average coverage for TB vaccine in Central America was 93 percent, the World Health Organization reports.
And the facts on the ground do not back up such worries. All children who arrive at a border station are screened for TB with skin tests and chest X-rays; those infected are immediately isolated and treated. So far this year, only three TB cases among unaccompanied children have been reported by federal officials to the Texas Department of State Health Services, says spokeswoman Carrie Williams, and only one case in Arizona, according to a report by Pima County Health Director Francisco Garcia.
Such low numbers are not cause for alarm, given that Arizona already sees about 200 cases of TB a year, and Texas sees nearly 1,300. Read more....