As undocumented immigrant children were being transferred from the Rio Grande Valley to other parts of the Southwest for processing, there were many questions being asked by both lawmakers and regular citizens. Aside from issues related to immigration enforcement and policy, there were questions as to whether these children had any health issues that would have to be addressed in order to avoid a public health concern.
Since October 2013, an estimated 60,000 undocumented children have attempted to cross the border into the U.S. These children are being processed and, those from Central America, will have an immigration hearing. However, in between the processing and the immigration hearing, the children are often released to family members because the wait can be significant. This has led some people to wonder whether some states should be concerned about public health issues.
Some claims have been rebuffed. Take for instance, those who have said that the children carry the Ebola virus or dengue fever. As an article on npr.org explains, “the current Ebola outbreak has been confined to Africa, as has past outbreaks.” Further, dengue fever does not “spread from human to human. Transmission involves bugs and dogs.”
However, there are some health situations, such as tuberculosis (TB), scabies, and lice, that should be considered. At this point, there have been some cases of TB reported in the children who have been apprehended at the U.S.-Mexico border. In addition, not all of the children have been vaccinated.
The most pressing concern is likely TB and whether there is any chance that there may be an outbreak. One reason that some worry about TB more than other illnesses is the fact that the “U.S. does not vaccinate against the disease.” This illness should not be overlooked - it is a serious respiratory disease and can be spread easily. However, the World Health Organization (WHO) reported that “coverage for TB vaccine in Central America was 93 percent.”
In addition, all of the children who have been apprehended at the border are checked for TB by using skin tests and chest X-rays. If an agent finds that a child is infected, he or she is “isolated and treated.” In Texas, there have only been three cases of TB in the undocumented, unaccompanied children apprehended at the border this year and Arizona has only seen one case. Compare those numbers with the typical number of reported cases in both states, and the situation doesn't seem so dire. On average, Texas has 1,300 cases and Arizona has 200 each year.
The article on npr.org also reminds us that healthcare in countries outside the U.S. is more advanced than what people seem to think. Irwin Redlener, a pediatrician at Columbia University and co-founder of the Children's Health Fund said that the “primary care system in developing countries is more effective than in the U.S.”
In addition to TB cases, “there have been three flu cases and a few gastrointestinal and respiratory issues” reported at the processing center in McAllen, Texas.