From a news story covering the USNS Comfort (T-AH 20) humanitarian deployment to Haiti back in 2007.
Due to greater presence of tuberculosis (TB), Comfort’s radiology department is greatly reducing the crew’s risk of exposure to the disease by conducting chest X-rays on everyone who embarks the ship.
TB is a contagious disease that affects the lungs and is spread through the air. Comfort’s previous screening process screened only the patients who embarked the ship. In Haiti and the previously visited country of Colombia, the radiology department had to develop a more efficient screening policy.
“We’re getting patients and their escorts – now we screen everyone,” said Cmdr. Kevin McCarthy, a radiologist attached to Comfort. “The policy was changed because Colombia and Haiti were known to be our biggest TB stops.”
Cmdr. McCarthy wasn’t telling the entire story regarding the policy with his last comment in that news story. You see, USNS Comfort (T-AH 20) had previously had a serious TB outbreak on the ship during a deployment by the hospital ship to support Haitian refugees. TB spread through the ship because that is the nature of air on big ships, and had it not been a hospital ship the TB outbreak would have been more difficult for the Navy to realize what was happening.
Lets consider this in the context of this health update from Doctors Without Borders:
In addition to famines, droughts, floods, and unrelenting conflict, the absence of public health services has resulted in enormous unmet basic health needs for a large majority of the estimated population of over 11.5 million. Women and children under five are particularly vulnerable. In Somalia, 1,000 out of every 100,000 women die giving birth; and more than one in five children dies before their fifth birthday.
What little medical services exist are privately owned and costly – out of reach for most Somalis. Many suffer from easily treatable diseases that can be fatal without access to healthcare, such as diarrhea and respiratory tract infections. Somalia also has one of the world’s highest prevalence rates of tuberculosis (TB). The neglected tropical disease kala azar claims the lives of thousands and there are regular outbreaks of measles, cholera and other epidemics.
Hopefully none of the pirates captured have TB, because based on what I have seen regarding the makeshift prison setup on USNS Lewis and Clark (T-AKE 1), it seems to me it would be a pretty terrible thing if that ships crew came down with TB considering that is also the ship interfacing with every other ship in the region.
I don’t know if we are keeping the pirates in a section of the ship where the ventilation system is connected to the rest of the ship, but I hope it is something that has been considered. I also do not know if there is an x-ray or radiologist on the ship, but perhaps there should be? I’m not trying to over hype an issue, nor do I know if this is even an issue. I’m simply noting that Naval forces don’t generally take and hold prisoners in large numbers for long periods of time at sea.