Fear of the spread of the Ebola virus to even more countries than the four in West Africa it has already touched is fast becoming a hot topic in the media and stories like that of Patrick Sawyer are at the vanguard of the spread. And there is a growing fear that it could actually reach the United States. But can it? Will it? Is Ebola coming to the United States?
The Daily Beast reported July 30 that Patrick Sawyer, a naturalized citizen of the United States working for his native nation of Liberia in its Finance Ministry, was in an airport in Lagos when, on July 20, he presented with symptoms of the dreaded Ebola virus that had yet to touch that massive city (Africa's largest with 21 million people) and collapsed. He was taken to hospital there and died five days later.
His was the case that made world headlines and fanned fears about an uncontrollable spread of the virus throughout Africa and, via air travel, every other nation of the world. Along with his story were stories of infected individuals who had left quarantine or treatment facilities before blood test results indicated they had the deadly hemorrhagic fever. Unaccounted for victims of the virus added to growing concerns.
In the United States, Patrick Sawyer's widow, Decontee, had to face the fact that not only was her husband not coming home to her and her children in Minnesota, but that if he had not presented symptoms, he could have easily flown to the United States and set off the pathogen in North America.
“He could have brought Ebola here,” his wife, Decontee Sawyer, told The Daily Beast.
Her husband had been tending a sick sister named Princess in Liberia. He was unsure of the exact nature of her illness until after she died.
“He knew she was sick and he kept caring for her, but he didn’t know it was Ebola,” Decontee said. “It could have been malaria.”
But it was not. Decontee Sawyer admitted that her husband may have been in denial that he had the virus.
A mistake that could very well have led to a global pandemic.
“Just out of nowhere, out of the blue,” she said. “I never thought Ebola would break down my front door, and that’s what it did.”
It has done more than knock at the door in West Africa, killing over 670 people to date, according to the World Health Organization. It is most prevalent in Sierra Leone, Guinea, and Liberia, but, as has been seen, has now made its way to Lagos, Nigeria.
Patrick Sawyer flew to Lagos and just an airplane ride away from the United States, perhaps a layover or two before he made it home to Minnesota, in America's heartland.
He was supposed to fly home to see his family in August.
Decontee Sawyer lives in Coon Rapids, Minn., with the couple's three daughters. "Patrick could've easily come home with Ebola, " she told KSTP-TV (Minneapolis-St. Paul). "Easy. Easy. It's close; it's at our front door. It knocked down my front door."
And that unfortunate event, that of Patrick Sawyer's death in Lagos, coupled with the contraction of the Ebola virus by two Americans in Liberia, seems to have alerted an oblivious American public to a very real danger. But will it make it across the Atlantic and go pandemic? Only time will tell. But wary diligence provides a better defense than disinterested or aloofness.