Far-right website's claim of Congolese migrants with Ebola 'patently false,' city says

By Mariah Medina - Digital Journalist

SAN ANTONIO - The city of San Antonio on Tuesday called a press conference to dispel rumors after a Texas-based, self-proclaimed far-right conspiracy theory website suggested hundreds of Congolese migrants who came to San Antonio last week posed a threat of spreading Ebola.

Assistant city manager Colleen Bridger, who has a Ph.D. in health services research and a master's degree in public health, called the reports "much ado about nothing." 

Bridger said that while the city's Migrant Resource Centers provided aid to migrants from the Democratic Republic of Congo, they have been evaluated by federal authorities and arrived in the U.S. after many months of travel through South America.

"Any rumors that they are bringing Ebola, or that they have a risk for Ebola are patently false," Bridger said. "These individuals have been screened by the federal government before being released into the United States."

Bridger pointed to basic math during her press conference, stating that the incubation period for Ebola is 21 days, meaning that individuals who have been exposed to the virus will develop symptoms within 21 days of exposure and are not contagious until they are symptomatic. 

With that timetable in mind, she said many left their home country "many, many months ago."

"It's really not possible that they were exposed to Ebola in the DRC, that now, six months later, they could develop symptoms and infect us," Bridger said.

Additionally, the individuals seeking asylum in the U.S. are not coming from the area impacted by the Ebola outbreak.

Bridger said many of the asylum-seeking migrants who came to San Antonio last week traveled from Africa to Cuba, then to South America or Central America. She said they're also subject to health screenings at each airport they travel through.

"These individuals have probably gone through three or four health screenings before they even land in South America or Central America. And then every time they go through a border checkpoint, they are also screened because people know that they are coming from Africa," Bridger said. "When they get to the border of the United States, they are again screened by our federal government."

Migrants are screened for all communicable diseases. Bridger added that many asylum seekers emigrate from countries with higher childhood vaccination rates than many places throughout the U.S.

"We are not seeing those vaccine-preventable diseases in the migrant population," Bridger said. "We are seeing what I characterize as stress-related illness. We're having some colds, some upper respiratory infections and that's to be expected with the stress they've gone through on their way here."

Individuals who do not feel well after arriving in the U.S. can also seek basic medical care at the city's Migrant Resource Centers where medical staff are able to refer individuals for treatment at other hospitals. Bridger said that less than 10% of migrants who are screened seek additional medical treatment.

"Unfounded rumors like this can cause a lot of devastating effects for the volunteers who are working on the response whose hearts are just as big as we can imagine," she said. "It can also fuel some anti-immigrant sentiments throughout the community that we really, as a community of immigrants, do not need to have here in San Antonio."

Copyright 2019 by KSAT - All rights reserved.