Influx of Immigrant Children Sparks Alarm About Disease Outbreaks

Tuesday, 17 Jun 2014 12:55 PM

By Melanie Batley

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The influx across the U.S. border of tens of thousands of immigrant children from Central America in the last few months is triggering serious public health concerns among officials and medical professionals who say there is now a high risk of major outbreaks of serious diseases and illnesses.

Emergency room physician J.T. Snarski told Newsmax TV's "America's Forum" on Tuesday that there is a significant risk of outbreaks of scabies, chicken pox, MRSA staph infections, lice, cholera, malaria, and digestive tract illnesses, particularly because people are being detained in close quarters.

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"There are all sorts of other health risks from overcrowding, and [the children are] coming from areas with no medical care," Snarski said. "Many of these children have never seen a doctor, been to a health clinic, or had any access to medical care, never mind being vaccinated."

She added that medical screenings at the point of entry would be a crucial way to limit the risks of disease outbreaks.

But Border Patrol agents say the flow of immigrants has been so overwhelming that authorities have not had the time or resources to perform medical screenings. They also say they are seeing outbreaks of chicken pox, staph infections, and other viruses, according to Breitbart.com.

"We are starting to see chicken pox, MRSA staph infections, we are starting to see different viruses," Rio Grande Valley Border Patrol agent Chris Cabrera told ABC 15, an ABC affiliate in Arizona.

He added that there is already a scabies outbreak, and it has been estimated that 10-15 percent of illegal immigrants apprehended in the area have scabies, Breitbart reported.

"We don't screen for diseases," Rio Grande Valley Border Patrol spokesman Omar Zamora told Breitbart Texas. "All we are is a processing center, so we don't do that."

Border Patrol agents are reporting that they have been infected by some of the illnesses. But concerns are growing about the risks of disease spreading more widely to the public, causing a full-blown public health crisis, particularly as the government discusses plans to relocate immigrants to a variety of facilities around the country to ease pressures at the border.

"It's contagious. We are transporting people to different parts of the state and different parts of the country," Cabrera told ABC 15.

The Department of Homeland Security reportedly called on Coast Guard medics to treat those infected, but government officials have refused to comment on the possibility of a public health crisis.

"DHS has public health controls in place to minimize any possible health risks. Throughout the Rio Grande Valley sector, we are conducting public health screens on all incoming detainees to screen for any symptoms of contagious diseases of possible public health concern," the department said in a statement, according to Breitbart.

"U.S. Border Patrol has established medical units at its busiest border stations (McAllen, Weslaco, and Fort Brown) ...  U.S. Coast Guard medical teams are assisting with the screening process and providing healthcare evaluations for the sick and injured."


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