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How to Quarantine Ebola Patients Being Airlifted to Safety

It might look like a Hollywood movie, but the arrival of Europe's first Ebola victim was very real.
August 8, 2014, 6:21pm

It might look like something out of Contagion, only it's not the stuff of fiction. You're looking at Europe's first reported Ebola victim, who contracted the virus while working in Liberia, as he arrived by plane yesterday in Spain, where he'll be treated.

As the Ebola outbreak continues to overwhelm aid workers and scare away reinforcements, the clip is a sobering reminder that Ebola patients like Miguel Pajares, the priest and missionary seen being handled in a transparent anti-viral chamber, are being treated by health officials who are out of ideas on how to combat the virus, one they've likely never dealt with until now.


But it's also raising questions about the best practices, precautionary measures, and retrofitting that go into transporting a patient from the point of infection to countries where Ebola has not yet broken out, while not spreading the disease.

Look again at how Pajares' arrival plays out: Hazmat-suited health officials, each wearing respirators and goggles, carry him out of the airplane. A futuristic forklift then lowers him to the tarmac, before dozens more masked officials scurry to offload Pajares into an ambulance, which drives off with an armed police escort.

Over on Reddit, some viewers were quick to point out what they perceive to be a major slip-up in health procedures by the Spanish Army and state health officials who carries out the operation.

At the beginning of the video, you can see the hazmat-clad officials outside of the plane (a specially-equipped military Airbus 310) approach the plane staff, who emerged as the doors open. It's clear that the plane workers' faces and arms are exposed, in stark contrast to the seemingly extreme precautions taken by ground staff.

"So, the guys coming off the plane have exposed skin around the face," said redditor Rytheran. "You see the fat guy actually remove his glove and unzip his suit while the patient is being loaded. Then the ambulance guys show up suited, full face respirators."

I reached out to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), to ask them if the responders were doing everything by the book. In an emailed statement, the CDC said it "would not be the appropriate source to comment on this video." Instead, I was directed to information on their website.


Though Ebola can only be contracted through sharing bodily fluids, whether or not the Spanish plane staff were being careless is unclear. It's worth noting that Ebola has an extremely lethal track recordwhen contracted.

When the US repatriated aid worker Dr. Kent Brantly earlier this month, as BBC reported, he arrived in similar fashion, in a private plane landing on a military base in Georgia. He was then transferred to a hospital in Atlanta. Extreme precautions were taken on the plane, as well as when Brantly landed. Officials promised there was no danger to the public.

In both cases, it's the first time an Ebola victim has ever been treated in either country. Which is to say, it's likely one of the first instances where those types of patients had to be transported to countries like the US or Spain, and hopefully without bringing the virus across the ocean.

In the end, the video offers up a glimpse into how the health infrastructures of countries can deal with a future pandemic, and the results are unsettling: living Hollywood movies, clear chambers and all.

Perhaps redditor mooj puts it best: "I'm not really buying into all the fear surrounding this, but seeing that chamber come out made me a little scared all of a sudden."