A day after politicizing the current West African Ebola crisis in order to stoke baseless fears that immigrants crossing the U.S.-Mexico border could spread the disease to Americans, radio host Laura Ingraham flipped to criticizing the media for taking advantage of the crisis by whipping up “hysteria” about the crisis without consulting experts to put the situation in context.
Two American health workers who were infected with the Ebola virus while fighting the ongoing epidemic in West Africa recently returned to the U.S. for treatment. Radio host Laura Ingraham took advantage of the news to ratchet up her efforts to smear Central American immigrants and push back against immigration reform. On the August 4 edition of her radio show, Ingraham cautioned her viewers about the supposed health risks of having “a border that's so much like Swiss cheese that anyone could be coming across the border right now,” and warned: “We could have Ebola people coming across the border right now.” Ingraham concluded, “If you're going to be upset about Ebola, you'd better be upset about the border.”
These comments stand in stark contrast to Ingraham's August 5 coverage of the Ebola outbreak. Ingraham bemoaned the fact that media outlets are whipping up “hysteria” with extensive ebola coverage and attacked the media for stoking baseless fears about the potential spread of the virus while neglecting to talk “to medical experts about what the truth is about infectious diseases, the spread of this, what measures we take and what measures aren't taken in Africa to deal with this.”
But Ingraham's own coverage conspicuously avoided the facts she called for. The suggestion that, in Ingraham's words, “Ebola people” could be “coming across the border right now” has already gotten a “pants on fire” rating from Politifact, which actually contacted experts on the issue. As Politifact noted, the CDC reports that “There is no Ebola in the Western Hemisphere,” and it is “extremely unlikely” that a migrant entering the U.S. across the Mexican border could be infected. Experts also noted that even if the illness spread to central America, an infected person would unlikely to survive the journey across the border:
Experts we asked issued a resounding “No.”
First, we checked with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, whose job includes tracking outbreaks of serious infectious diseases. Spokesman Daniel J. DeNoon confirmed that the CDC has received no reports of a human Ebola infection anywhere in the Western Hemisphere, much less the U.S.-Mexico border. “Ebola cases in humans have never been reported outside of Africa,” DeNoon said.
William Schaffner, an infectious-disease specialist at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, agreed. “The congressman is misinformed,” he said. “There is no Ebola in the Western Hemisphere.”
We also checked whether it was plausible for a child or adult entering the United States from Central America via Mexico to be infected with the Ebola virus. CDC scientists call it “extremely unlikely,” DeNoon said.
Independent experts agreed. “It's very, very, highly unlikely if you are talking about someone from Central America who has not traveled to Africa,” Thomas W. Geisbert, a microbiologist and immunologist specializing in Ebola at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston.
However, the profile of the jet-flying Ebola carrier doesn't mesh with the types of peoples now flocking to the U.S. border.
“The incubation period is two to 21 days, so theoretically, an African could fly from an infected area, land in a Mexican airport, take a bus toward the border, hire a coyote to take him across and then 'present' with Ebola,” said Thomas Fekete, section chief for infectious diseases at the Temple University School of Medicine. “But this presupposes a suicidal person who also has the resources for this kind of travel.”
Indeed, the prior, scattered examples of exotic and deadly diseases reaching the United States suggest that “the likelihood of an illegal migrant getting infected and introducing the disease to the U.S. is probably less than that of a 'legal' traveler,” said Daniel G. Bausch, head of the virology and emerging infections department at the U.S. Naval Medical Research Unit No.6 in Lima, Peru.
Another problem: If you had such an infection, the chances are good that you would die on the journey to the United States, said Arthur Caplan, director of the division of medical ethics at New York University's Langone Medical Center. “You would be too sick to make it to the border by foot,” he said.
Ingraham has a history of stoking fears of communicable disease in order to push her anti-immigration agenda.