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  • Ebola and the fiction of quarantine

    The New Yorker - 08/11/2014

    Amid heated debate, the Ebola virus came to the United States on Saturday, August 2, 2014, aboard a Gulfstream jet chartered by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The virus was carried in the bloodstream of Doctor Kent Brantly, who travelled within an Aeromedical Biological Containment System—a hermetically sealed, transparent plastic tent that isolated the patient from the flight crew.

    The Containment System is, at first glance, underwhelming; it looks like a transparent shower curtain that has been haphazardly tied onto a grid of PVC pipes, like an amateur greenhouse or a children’s fort. In fact, it houses an entirely self-contained artificial environment. After a patient’s stretcher is placed inside, the entry sleeve is typically clamped at two points, heat-sealed, and cut. Connected to a battery-powered high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) exchange unit, the plastic walls encircle a negatively pressurized weather system, within which a patient can remain isolated for the duration of a flight. Gloved sleeves sewn into the plastic at strategic intervals allow medical personnel to treat the patient without breaking the bubble; a needleless intravenous system is used to minimize risk of puncture. Throughout a journey that took him nearly halfway around the world, Brantly inhabited his own private atmosphere.

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