Fox News: Migrant caravan has people with Smallpox, Leprosy

We’ve all heard about the “migrant caravan” by now. It’s the massive group of people currently moving through Mexico, many of whom have the goal of seeking asylum in the United States. The caravan consists of mostly people from Honduras, some from Guatemala, who are fleeing violence. They’ve left everything they know behind out of fear for their lives. 

The caravan is approximately 4000 people (down from the 7000 estimated by the UN last week), and they are hundreds of miles from the US border as I type this. What this means is that the refugees, most of whom are seeking to legally enter the United States. But as Vox points out, that’s not the reality Donald Trump wants us to live in.

The caravan is a perfect obsession for Trump for the same reason it’s a perfect obsession for Fox: powerful images that appear to validate conservative base fears of “invasion” by “lawless” foreigners and the countries that “send” them. Trump himself has been using imagery like this since he started his presidential campaign in 2015 and talked about Mexico “sending” rapists and murderers over the US-Mexico border.

And now, there’s a new myth being spread by conservatives. Buckle up, because it’s a real doozy.

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Andrew Lawrence (who works for Media Matters for America) tweeted a clip from Fox News where former ICE agent David Ward says the people in the refugee caravan have Smallpox and Leprosy. 


We have these individuals coming in from all over the world that have some of the most extreme medical care in the world. And they’re coming in with diseases such as smallpox and leprosy and TB that are going to infect our people in the United States.

And in case you didn’t expand the thread, this is one of my favorite exchanges I’ve ever seen on Twitter:

Of all the myths conservatives have spread about immigrants to the United States, this one would be the funniest one, but only if people didn’t actually believe it. 

If it were true that even a single one of these individuals had Smallpox, we’d have much, much bigger problems than thousands of asylum seekers arriving at the United States at the same time. 

You see, the last known case of Smallpox happened in Somalia back in 1977. In 1980, the World Health Organization declared Smallpox eradicated from the globe (thanks, vaccines!). As the WHO notes on their website, there is no naturally occurring Smallpox virus anymore, and the only existence of Smallpox now is isolated to laboratories. Their existence remains somewhat controversial, but those who advocate for saving them do so out of concern for Smallpox being weaponized and/or climate change thawing out Smallpox currently frozen in permafrost.

And Leprosy sounds scary. But you have to remember that this isn’t the Middle Ages and we have antibiotics that cure it. It’s certainly not a picnic, but it’s not something that we have to worry about in the United States. About 150 people each year are diagnosed with Leprosy in the United States. You have a much, much higher chance of being struck by lightning than catching Leprosy. 

Know thy enemy

The primary cause of Leprosy in the United Sates is likely the tactical assault possum (more commonly known as the Armadillo).

According to the CDC:

In the southern United States, some armadillos are naturally infected with the bacteria that cause Hansen’s disease in people and it may be possible that they can spread it to people. However, the risk is very low and most people who come into contact with armadillos are unlikely to get Hansen’s disease.

For general health reasons, avoid contact with armadillos whenever possible. If you had a contact with an armadillo and are worried about getting Hansen’s disease, talk to your healthcare provider. Your doctor will follow up with you over time and perform periodic skin examinations to see if you develop the disease. In the unlikely event that you have Hansen’s disease, your doctor can help you get treatment.

The CDC goes on to point out that more than 95% of people have a natural immunity to Mycobacterium leprae, the bacterium that causes Leprosy.

As I said in my blasphemy article yesterday, if you have facts and evidence to support your claims, use facts and evidence to support your claim. If you don’t have facts and evidence to support your claims, then your opinion likely derives from your feelings instead of reality. And when you let your feelings guide your opinions, you create an opportunity to spread lies. 

And if you’re a far-right conservative news outlet, the only reason you have to lie is to mask your xenophobia and racism.

Written by Dan Broadbent

Science Enthusiast. Atheist. Lover of cats.

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