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The Ebola Jet Set

In a recent Vanity Fair magazine, there was an article about the early “Jet Set” who traveled the world on the new Boeing 707 jetliner. In those days, the jet was a miracle knocking off nearly 5 hours of transit time from America to Europe. It was expensive to take and only the rich and glamorous could afford it. People wore their best clothes and were served five course meals, says the author of the article. Oh those were the better days – if you were rich.

As anyone who has flown in the past few years can tell you, that era is but a dream. On the other hand, we can now travel the world in less than 24 hours. The Taj Mahal or Monrovia, Liberia can replace the site of my cat sitting in my window in front of my desk in McLean, Virginia in a day. A miracle and a problem. Welcome to the age of the Ebola Jet Set.

In this world, people and their problems can also move around in 24 hours. Terrorist can move about with relative ease. We know that and have taken actions to deal with the problem.

But, diseases, like Ebola, can also spread world wide in a matter of days. So, we have seen in recent weeks that what happens in West Africa can arrive in Dallas, Texas in no time flat. And, thus again, the definition of Homeland Security expands.

Whatever the missed opportunities from the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and whatever other health related initials there are out; rarely does a small fever stop anyone from traveling. Being prepared to deal with type of thing is going to take some getting used to by Americans who are already irritated by long and intrusive TSA lines. The Japanese do health screens on the way in to their country. Maybe we need to do the same.

The news media hype and distortion for ratings is not helping inform the public to say the least. And watching the Administration struggle with a response is hardly awe-inspiring. What is really upsetting, however, is after both SARS and H1N1 influenza, our medical establishment is not prepared around the country to deal with mass infectious disease.

Simply put, while international cooperation is nice as is a competent WHO, we need to boost that capability within the U.S. regionally to deal with infectious disease – not just as NIH headquarters in DC. Hospitals and medical centers have not been at the forefront of homeland security efforts and it is now showing.

The early warning reporting system also needs to be strengthened recognizing that people being people do not go wandering into a medical facility unless they think they are sick. The earlier detection among doctors and public awareness is crucial.

So, welcome to the Ebola Jet Set. The nature of travel time today makes it near impossible to stop. And Americans must understand and be prepared as part of our total homeland security effort to deal with it.