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To stem the threat from Ebola, close our borders now [Letter]

As a medical researcher, I have long thought that the approach taken by the federal Centers for Disease Control to protect citizens from infection with Ebola is grossly inadequate ("Unprepared against Ebola?" Oct. 13).

It appears driven by an underestimation of the threat this virus poses, plus an over-estimation of our ability to contain it.

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Basic tenets of human behavior are also not taken into account. The ability of most people to accurately take and report their temperature is questionable, as is the capacity of monitors to quickly and accurately take (and read) the temperatures of large numbers of people boarding planes.

The thermometers may be incorrectly calibrated or may malfunction. And people who have been exposed to the disease may actually have an incentive not to report it if it means reducing their chances of obtaining treatment outside their country. Temperatures can also be temporarily lowered with medications such as Tylenol.

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Moreover, people can become symptomatic in mid-flight, thus exposing fellow passengers without their knowing.

In sum, the probability of identifying even a fraction of the infected people entering the country is small at best.

Meanwhile, the CDC's strategy for protecting health care workers is clearly inadequate — I was shocked that those who treated Thomas Eric Duncan in Dallas were not isolated until the incubation period of 21 days had passed.

The CDC still can't figure out what caused a health care worker to become infected, and its director now admits that the training and equipment provided to hospital staffs may not be sufficient. In any case, providing sufficient guidance, training and equipment to every hospital, outpatient clinic and urgent care center in the U.S. simply is not feasible.

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As a result, planes potentially carrying infected individuals still land on our shores every day. The CDC has once again scrambled to adjust its strategy. A recent news report estimated the cost of treating Ebola victims in the U.S. could reach $32.6 billion by the end of 2015 if the virus is not contained.

The World Health Organization now expects approximately 10,000 new cases per week in the West African nations at the epicenter of the outbreak and calls Ebola the most serious public health crisis in modern times. This is an epidemic that could be as severe or even worse than the 1918 flu pandemic that killed millions around the world.

The most basic principle of infectious disease practice is to isolate and quarantine where no effective prevention or treatment medication exists. It is time to suspend all commercial air travel to and from all countries where Ebola is endemic.

Non-commercial planes carrying aid workers and supplies could continue to fly without risking the thousands of passengers traveling on commercial airliners.

The CDC needs new leadership from someone who has the knowledge, judgment and political neutrality to guide a rational U.S. Ebola policy that offers real protection to the citizens of this country.

Katy L. Benjamin, Baltimore

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To respond to this letter, send an email to talkback@baltimoresun.com. Please include your name and contact information.

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