Steve Chapman
In 1952, Sen. Patrick McCarran of Nevada took the Senate floor to warn of the dangers posed by foreigners. The immigration system, he said, is a stream that flows into our society, and "if that stream is polluted our institutions and our way of life becomes infected." He was not the last person to see those migrating here as a terrifying source of contamination.

A couple of weeks ago, the city council of League City, Texas, passed a resolution expressing worry that "many illegal aliens suffering from diseases endemic in their countries of origin are being released into our communities." Tom Green County claimed the influx of Central Americans at the southern border puts Americans "at risk for epidemics of serious diseases." A Texas congressman said they might be carrying Ebola.

Now, there is no doubt that some of the youngsters and adults arriving in Texas suffer from various afflictions, including scabies and lice. It's hard to maintain optimal hygiene while trekking through the desert and sneaking rides on freight trains.

But scabies and lice are not unique to Honduras and Guatemala. The United States has a million cases of scabies every year and as many as 12 million of lice infestation. Local officeholders in Texas, however, rarely get agitated when these ailments pop up in New York or St. Louis.

Carrie Williams of the Texas Department of Public Health Services told The New York Times that the incidence of scabies among these newcomers is "not outside the norm of what we would expect."

As for more serious illnesses, the fear is also largely needless. "Cases of infectious disease are so scarce that rates cannot be calculated," Rachel Schultz, a spokesperson for the Department of Homeland Security, told me. The main medical problems plaguing the asylum-seekers, she said, are "dehydration, heat exhaustion, cuts, bruises, foot and ankle injuries, etc." Good news: Dehydration is easily curable -- and non-contagious.

Williams counted just three cases of tuberculosis -- which compares to the 1,233 cases in the state in 2012. The Texas Observer reports that "Guatemalan kids are more likely than Texans to be immunized for infectious diseases."

There hasn't been a confirmed case of measles in Guatemala or Honduras in over two decades. The Ebola specter is especially preposterous, since the disease has never showed up outside of Africa.

Steve Chapman

Steve Chapman is a columnist and editorial writer for the Chicago Tribune.

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