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Doctor in Congress Reacts to Ebola Case in His Home State

The CDC is confident it can stop the U.S. case of Ebola in it’s tracks, but some conservatives in Congress aren’t sure the government is taking all the necessary precautions.

CQ Roll Call got on the phone with one such member, Republican Rep. Michael C. Burgess of Texas, to get his opinion as a congressman, as a former physician and as a Texan (the Ebola patient was diagnosed in Dallas) on next steps to contain the disease. Burgess spoke to CQ on Tuesday (subscription required) about the need for more medical professionals to become lawmakers.

Airline travel

Burgess said one way to address the spread of Ebola is to evaluate the screening process that individuals undergo when flying out of the African countries in which the disease is widespread. “It does raise some serious questions about the type of screening that’s going on in Liberia. Apparently this person showed no evidence of being ill when they boarded the plane,” he said.

He also said that the U.S. might want to consider suspending travel from Liberia and the other countries where the disease is prevalent: “We still have planes coming from Liberia to DFW, I guess. I wonder if someone ought not to rethink that.”

Health care privacy laws

Burgess said if other cases of Ebola are found in the United States, it might be easier to reach and educate those who come into contact with the disease if sick individuals’ names are made public more quickly.

“Perhaps some of the rules regarding patient privacy may need to be reconsidered in light of the public health threat, if indeed there are more cases that appear as a consequence of this individual being here or as a consequence of someone new coming in with [Ebola] that was unrecognized when they arrived.”

He later added, “This job may be made easier if there’s not quite the fealty to the privacy aspects as we normally employ them.”

Pace of government action

Burgess said he would also like to see at least one government agency pick up its pace in response to the Ebola threat.

“The fact that the FDA is taking its normal, bureaucratic approach to the evaluation of medicines and vaccines, I think this is a different day and I would like for them to recognize that,” he said. “The normal, bureaucratic lethargy that is tolerated on a day-to-day basis in Washington, this may be a time where it can’t be tolerated in the interest of public health.”

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