A public health official in Laredo, Texas, said 20 Congolese migrants were monitored for Ebola and other diseases in shelters in his city and across the Mexican border in Nuevo Laredo, Tamaulipas. Shortly after his announcement during a Laredo City Council meeting, the World Health Organization (WHO) considered declaring a “global emergency” in response to a massive outbreak of Ebola in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
“We have 8 Congolese right now in one of our shelters and a dozen in Nuevo Laredo,” Laredo Health Director Dr. Hector Gonzalez told the Laredo City Councilman George Altget during a council meeting on April 4. “For them, my concern was Ebola.” He said that due to the time element, the Congolese migrants were not developing symptoms of Ebola. “But, we’re on alert to check that,” he said.
A report from the WHO states that, as of April 10, there have been more than 1,200 reported cases of Ebola in the Congo (1,140 confirmed, 66 probable). Those cases resulted in the deaths of 764 patients (698 confirmed, 66 probable). On Friday, The WHO decided the outbreak does not yet constitute a “Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC).”
A top Red Cross official told NBC News on Friday that he is “more concerned than I have ever been” about the current outbreak of Ebola spreading regionally. Emanuele Capobianco cited statistics from the Congolese health ministry confirming 40 new cases over a two-day period last week. NBC reported that the official called the rate unprecedented in this particular outbreak.
Doctors Without Borders responded to the lack of action from the WHO.
“Whatever the official status of this outbreak is, it is clear that the outbreak is not under control and therefore we need a better collective effort, Gwenola Seroux, emergency manager for the organization said in a written statement. “What is most important now if we want to gain control of this epidemic is to change the way we are dealing with it.”
In Laredo, Dr. Gonzalez said migrants from other countries present other health risks as well. He said they are monitoring migrants for yellow fever and malaria. “We don’t commonly see these (diseases), but we could.”
Gonzalez said that 2,800 migrants have been released in Laredo at the bus station in the past two and a half months. He said the city government is working with charity organizations to provide health screenings. “We’ve had flu. We’ve had a couple of potential respiratory infections that could be communicable, but we ruled them out – [tuberculosis] and mumps.”
“TB is an ongoing issue in the state of Texas,’ the doctor explained. “Between Texas, California, and New York, we have 50 percent of the cases of TB and the border has the most. Brownsville has the biggest number of cases.”
“We always have surveillance for different issues that I’ve expressed,” the health director concluded.