Column: Travel bans a disproportionate response to Ebola

Katie Smith, Online Editor

A national fear of Ebola has prompted the quarantine of those who pose the threat of spreading the virus after traveling, specifically targeting those who have had “high risk contact” with infected patients.

These quarantines seem more political than medical, requiring that travelers at high risk abide by a 21-day quarantine in their homes with regular medical checkups.

The Illinois Department of Public Health defined high-risk contact as direct physical contact with blood or bodily fluids of Ebola patients and victims.

This means that in order to contract Ebola, someone must come in direct contact with one of the above bodily fluids while it is being secreted from broken skin or a mucous membrane. 

While the confining of these individuals may be comforting in theory and may sound like a responsible and non-invasive request, the Centers for Disease Control even expressed that the quarantines were likely unnecessary and encouraged voluntary home stays instead.

Some political candidates, however, have gone so far as to support a travel ban applied to countries in West Africa.

The low-odds of contracting Ebola, which were confirmed by both the IDPH and CDC, emphasize the likeliness that candidates are merely playing on citizens’ fear of the infection, even encouraging that fear, as an opportunity for campaign material.

Currently, the CDC has established guidelines to categorize travelers into four levels risk: high, some, low, and unidentifiable.

Most healthcare workers returning from Africa are considered “some risk,” while those treating Ebola patients in the U.S. are considered to be at “low but not zero” risk.

The likeliness that a person passing through an airport will come in contact with the fluids necessary to transmit the virus are so blatantly low that Americans need not fear catching it.

The quarantine of healthcare workers returning from places like Liberia, Guinea, and Sierra Leone even feels unnecessary since the virus is not airborne.

A recent quarantine resulted in a lawsuit between the state of Maine and a nurse who returned to the states after treating patients in Sierra Leone.

The nurse, Kaci Hickox, was quarantined in a tent outside a New Jersey hospital despite showing no symptoms of the virus.

Although Pat Quinn assures Illinois residents they will not undergo the same humiliation, our irrational fear of being diagnosed with Ebola remains ignorant.

The people who travel to these countries are heroic and selfless in their efforts. Rather than welcoming them back to their homes, we have confined them there, and publically enforced a fear of these individuals.

Within one week of the enforcement of these screenings, less than five known travelers from Ebola-affected areas were reported in Illinois.

Numbers so low should be a comfort to anyone afraid of contracting the virus, but they are also indicative of our tendency to become hysterical over real concerns blown out of proportion for strictly political reasons.

While law-enforced quarantines may seem like an extreme effort, a travel ban with so weak a scientific basis is irrational and hardly worth considering at this time.

Katie Smith is a senior journalism major and can be reached at 581-2812 or [email protected].