On 20 July, Patrick Sawyer, a Liberian government official, arrived in Nigeria after switching plans in Togo, showing signs of the Ebola virus disease (EVD). From what I have read, he was spewing bodily fluids while deplaning at Murtala Muhammed Airport in Lagos and taken to a local hospital, where he died of Ebola five days later. Despite the fact that a passenger was flying on an itinerary from an area where the Ebola virus was prevalent and was obviously sick with what might be the disease, none of the passengers or flight crew who he came in contact with him were isolated. While they were being “monitored”, according to news reports, the passengers were free to go about their daily lives and potentially spread the virus, if they were indeed infected.
Today, the physician who attended to Patrick Sawyer died in Lagos. The timing is about right, since the incubation period for EVD is 2-21 days.
How many individuals who came off of the plane with Patrick Sawyer were infected and are beginning to show signs of EVD? Where have they travelled and who have they come in contact with? And, through which airports and to which destinations have those individuals gone? Is it possible that the news breaking just now that there is a patient at Mt. Sinai hospital in New York with EVD symptoms someone how came in contact with Patrick Sawyer or someone on that plane?
And today Emirates announced that it was canceling flights to Guinea. Why would it do that while IATA is saying that it is unlikely that someone who flew in a plane with someone with the Ebola virus would contract the disease. Maybe it is because IATA is wrong and it is very likely that you could get the virus if someone on the plane with you is vomiting or evacuating, particularly in a cramped airplane with notoriously unhygienic bathrooms. But, most probably, they cancelled flights because they don’t want to be a possibly liable vector for the virus while it moves internationally.
I hope that I am wrong and this is not the start of a much larger epidemiological event resulting from the failure of the Nigerian government, health officials and airport personnel to identify and contain the virus that Patrick Sawyer was spreading as he came off that airplane on 20 July. If not, and we begin to see the diaspora of EVD showing up in cities around the world, our air transport system, at least initially in and out of West Africa, will begin slowing to a halt.