GOP congressman: Ebola could spread across the border

Rep. Phil Gingrey, R-Ga., leaves a House Republican Conference meeting, April 8, 2014.
Rep. Phil Gingrey, R-Ga., leaves a House Republican Conference meeting, April 8, 2014.

One Republican thinks the migrant children arriving at the southwestern border of the United States could be introducing American citizens to a deadly virus.

Rep. Phil Gingrey of Georgia recently expressed his fear that the ongoing immigration crisis at the U.S.-Mexico border could trigger a health epidemic. He wrote a letter to Thomas Frieden, director of the Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), calling on him to act immediately to assess the public risk posed by immigrants.

"Reports of illegal migrants carrying deadly diseases such as swine flu, dengue fever, Ebola virus and tuberculosis are particularly concerning. Many of the children who are coming across the border also lack basic vaccinations such as those to prevent chicken pox or measles. This makes those Americans that are not vaccinated – and especially young children and the elderly – particularly susceptible," Gingrey, a longtime physician, wrote in the letter.

Gingrey defended his letter Tuesday.

"The border patrol gave us a list of the diseases that they're concerned about, and Ebola was one of those," he told NBC News' Luke Russert. "I can't tell you specifically that there were any cases of Ebola, I don't think there were, but of course Tuberculosis, Chagas disease, many -- small pox, some of the infectious diseases of children, all of these are concerns."

Ebola is a severe, often fatal disease in humans, according to the CDC. However, all cases of human illness or human death related to Ebola have occurred in Africa. No deaths from the hemorrhagic fever have been documented in the United States, nor in the entire Western Hemisphere, according to the CDC

"Reports have indicated that several border agents have contracted diseases through contact with the unaccompanied minors. As the unaccompanied children continue to be transported to shelters around the country on commercial airlines and other forms of transportation, I have serious concerns that the diseases carried by these children may begin to spread too rapidly to control," Gingrey added in his letter, which he wrote on July 7.

More than 52,000 undocumented children have been apprehended along the border since October, most of them fleeing violence and instability in Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador. President Barack Obama last week requested emergency funds from Congress to address the ongoing crisis. Government officials expect as many as 90,000 children could enter the country by the end of this year from Central America.

The CDC is providing consultation to federal officials who are leading the response to the increase in unaccompanied children entering the country, a CDC spokesperson told msnbc in an email. CDC's support includes consultation on medical screening.

The supposed false rumors about Ebola have appeared on anti-immigration websites and some mainstream media outlets, some of which cite the congressman. Blog posts on the anti-immigration websites predate Gingrey's letter.