CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- If you're talking about an exotic international disease coming in Charlotte, the airport is probably where it's going to show up.
To get you up to speed, late Tuesday night, a guy showed up at Carolinas Medical Center's emergency room, said he was sick, and then said he'd just flown in from Africa. Africa's where the Ebola outbreak's been going on, and so, CMC blocked off a big chunk of the ER, just to be safe.
"There was essentially no possibility that the patient had Ebola," Dr. Katie Passeretti, an infectious disease specialist at CMC.
"It is an unlikely event, if it ever were to happen. We had a dry run. That should all makes us feel a little proud," said Mecklenburg County Health Director Stephen Keener.
Turns out, there's a good chance the guy had malaria, still a bad disease to have, but one that's much more treatable. Malaria is spread by mosquitoes, and it used to be a lot worse. Medicine and prevention made a big difference. Mecklenburg County deals with about a half-dozen cases a year, all coming from somewhere else. Not too big of a deal because malaria's not transmitted from person-to-person.
But, back to Ebola. There is no direct flight from here at Charlotte-Douglas to any parts of Africa where the Ebola outbreak is happening. But, anywhere between four to 7000 international passengers show up at Charlotte-Douglas each day. And Customs and Border Control here does have an isolation room run by the Centers for Disease Control. It's been used several times, and it's similar to what's found in hospital emergency rooms.
"An isolation space is going to contain that patient's air and germs," said Kristyna Culp, chief operating officer of FreemanWhite, a company in Charlotte that designs emergency rooms.
"It's a negative pressure room. Air is going to come in and be filtered out in the exhaust, so you don't worry about their germs spreading."
But really, doctors say, take a deep breath.
"Sitting across the room from someone who has no symptoms at all, just because they traveled to Africa, isn't putting you at risk," said Passeretti.
So yes, the folks at the airport might be the first line of defense against exotic disease, but as we found out this week, it's certainly not the last line of defense either.