U.S. To Begin Ebola Screenings For Travelers From West Africa

Ebola Virus

Starting as early as this weekend, the U.S. will be screening arriving passengers from West Africa for signs of the Ebola virus:

ATLANTA — Federal officials said Wednesday that they would begin temperature screenings of passengers arriving from West Africa at five American airports, beginning with Kennedy International in New York as early as this weekend, as the United States races to respond to a deadly Ebola outbreak.

Travelers at the four other airports — Washington Dulles International, O’Hare International, Hartsfield-Jackson International and Newark Liberty International — will be screened starting next week, according to federal officials.

The screenings, which will include taking the passengers’ temperatures with a gun-like, noncontact thermometer and requiring them to fill out a questionnaire after deplaning, will be for people arriving from Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea, the three countries hardest hit by the epidemic.

About 90 percent of the people arriving from the three countries come through the five airports, officials said. Kennedy Airport alone has about 43 percent of the travelers. The second-highest share of visitors — 22 percent — come through Washington Dulles.

Over all, their numbers are relatively small. Of the roughly 36,000 travelers who left the three countries over the past two months, officials said, about a quarter came to the United States. Of those, 77 had symptoms, such as a fever, consistent with early-stage Ebola, but none turned out to have Ebola. Most of the fevers were related to malaria, a disease spread by mosquitoes.

The airport screenings are the federal government’s first large-scale attempt at improving the safety at American ports of entry, a measure many had called for after a Liberian man was treated for Ebola in Dallas, the first case of the disease in the United States. The man, Thomas Eric Duncan, 42, died in isolation at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital on Wednesday.

The C.D.C. will send personnel to airports to perform the screenings, and Coast Guard members will be deployed to help in the coming weeks.

It is the first time that health authorities in the United States have taken the step of monitoring the temperature of people arriving at American airports, and the policy carried broad implications for health departments across the country.

How to respond to someone with a temperature will be up to local health departments, officials said. Local health officials may decide to quarantine a traveler, something that is legal under American law, or to transport a traveler to the hospital. In Texas, health authorities decided to require some of the people who had contact with Mr. Duncan to be monitored by health professionals, because the professionals did not think the people were capable of taking their temperatures themselves.

Although it’s not entirely clear, one presumes that this screening will include passengers from the affected countries who arrive in the United States on non-direct flights. Thomas Eric Duncan, the Ebola patient in Dallas who died today, came to the United States via a flight that originated in Liberia but passed through Europe on his way to another stop at Dulles Airport, for example, so one assumes that the new protocols will cover this type of situation. On the whole, though, this seems like a prudent move under the circumstances. As I noted when I discussed the debate over whether to ban travel from west Africa altogether, to some degree allowing it to go forward depends on how rigorous the screening process at the originating airport may be. In addition to being able to possible catch people who were not exhibiting symptoms when they departed due to the passage of time, a measure like this can act as something of a back stop against mistakes at the point of origin.

FILED UNDER: Economics and Business, Health, Quick Takes,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010. Before joining OTB, he wrote at Below The BeltwayThe Liberty Papers, and United Liberty Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. Most of the fevers were related to malaria, a disease spread by mosquitoes.

    Considering we have Anopheles mosquitos in the US, I actually consider this more of a concern than the ebola.

  2. Gustopher says:

    Although it’s not entirely clear, one presumes that this screening will include passengers from the affected countries who arrive in the United States on non-direct flights.

    I have no idea why you presume this — that would require knowing the complete travel history of everyone entering, in real-time, and meeting every plane. It would be logistically difficult to do well. The meeting every plane part might be where the logistics break down.

    And it doesn’t help for the infectious person getting a flight to London, transferring in Belgium, sitting next to someone heading from Belgium to the U.S. on the Belgium to US segment. That person won’t even show signs of infection for up to three weeks.

    Mind you, it is better than nothing, and we should be trying to get all the other countries to check passengers coming from west Africa, but it leaves a lot of gaps.

    If we are serious, we should be on the ground in Liberia, Sierra Leone, and any other affected countries, doing the checks at the point of departure.

  3. Moosebreath says:

    @Gustopher:

    “I have no idea why you presume this — that would require knowing the complete travel history of everyone entering, in real-time, and meeting every plane.”

    Since the incoming passengers would need to present their passports, which are stamped with arrival and departure dates, it is less difficult than you think.

  4. Tyrell says:

    There is the case of the person in Spain who had worked in one of the ebola countries. After following all the procedures, precautions, protocols; they still got infected. What are some possible explanations ? A slip up, contaminated water or food, infected animals, second hand contact like door handles, or air born. All of these are serious and would represent a totally new front. Now new restrictions and screenings have been put in place for people leaving the ebola countries.

  5. Ha says:

    There is the case of the person in Spain who had worked in one of the ebola countries. After following all the procedures, precautions, protocols; they still got infected.

    Actually, I’ve read that the nurse did NOT follow procedures – she touched her face with her glove after changing the diaper of the priest who had ebola. Then when she informed the hospital she had a low-grade fever – one of the 1st signs of ebola – the hospital told her to say home and to monitor her fever until it got to the danger stage.

    It was apparently an absolute screw up of magnificent proportions. She came into contact with numerous people, wound up in the emergency room, begging for help, warning people to stay away, with a dangerously high fever. Finally, the hospital deigned to admit her. But, who knows how many people are now infected in Spain?

  6. Ron Beasley says:

    I’m sorry, but this strikes me of another example of the government trying to look like they are doing something to make people feel better ( See TSA .) I don’t really see it as being of much use.

  7. Rafer Janders says:

    @Gustopher:

    And it doesn’t help for the infectious person getting a flight to London, transferring in Belgium, sitting next to someone heading from Belgium to the U.S. on the Belgium to US segment. That person won’t even show signs of infection for up to three weeks.

    Unless that person comes into direct and sustained contact with the blood, urine, sweat, semen, urine, feces or vomit* of the passenger sitting next to them, they should be fine. It’s not airborne.

    *Offer not applicable to Heathrow, where all of the above are likely.

  8. Guarneri says:

    “In the extremely unlikely event someone does come to the US infected with Ebola…………..the dudes gonna die.”

  9. Tyrell says:

    @Rafer Janders: I would not want to sit next to a person who has been in the ebola countries. Any of the things that you mentioned could happen. Think about the common event of motion sickness on airplane flights.

  10. wr says:

    @Tyrell: ” Think about the common event of motion sickness on airplane flights.”

    Good news, Tyrell. They’ve introduced these newfangled kinds of flyin’ machines called “jet airplanes,” and since the airlines started flying them, there are very few events of airsickness. In fact, in decades of travel, I can’t recall one instance of being on a plane with someone who had to use the airsickness bag.

  11. anjin-san says:

    @Tyrell:

    I would not want to sit next to a person who has been in the ebola countries.

    Good news, all you have to do is not fly, and you won’t have to sit next to anyone.

  12. Tyrell says:

    @wr: How about this: I and two other family members got motion sickness on a flight, but did not need a bag. The plane was in some turbulence. Before my first air flight, a lot of people said they usually got sick and recommended the train. I get motion sickness in cars, boats, even riding the lawn mower. Finally I found a cheap, safe, non-side effect treatment: ginger.

  13. bill says:

    in other news a man used a condom after sex, hoping it will prevent disease/pregnancy……….