Amid rising fears of more cases of Ebola reaching our shores, U.S. Customs and Border Protection and the Centers for Disease Control have introduced enhanced passenger-screening procedures at several international airports. Screenings at New York's JFK airport (which receives 43 percent of travelers from Ebola-afflicted nations) began last week; similar protocols are scheduled to start this week at Newark Liberty, Washington-Dulles, Chicago O’Hare, and Atlanta's Hartsfield-Jackson airport. Minnesota officials are also lobbying for screenings at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport. Breaking news that a Dallas health care worker took a flight to Cleveland from Dallas the night before she reported symptoms of Ebola (for which she has tested positive), will certainly send another shudder through the aviation industry, as airlines and airport workers evaluate what procedures they have in place to handle infected passengers. As a reminder: Ebola is not transmittable through casual contact. A person must be exhibiting symptoms to spread the virus—putting health-care workers and close family members at greatest risk.
Travelers arriving from Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone—the countries hardest hit by the disease—will be singled out for a temperature check with a non-contact thermometer. Passengers who are found to have a fever or other symptoms will be brought to a CDC representative and isolated for further examination. The U.K. has instituted similar protocols, and health officials expect that Canada and the rest of Europe will soon follow suit. The efficacy of these screenings has been under scrutiny. For a couple months now, anyone leaving the three affected West African countries has had to undergo an exit screening for the virus—a process that was not able to identify and isolate the Liberian man, Thomas Eric Duncan, who succumbed to Ebola in Dallas last week. Even the CDC admits that while such screenings may be effective in quarantining some travelers, they won't be able to catch all infected people. The incubation period for Ebola can be up to three weeks long, and someone who is not yet showing symptoms could enter the country.
Calls to ban travelers from affected countries have been increasing here in the States. CDC director Thomas Frieden has shot down the idea, saying travel links to West Africa are crucial in fighting the spread of the virus. Isolating the impacted countries would create "an even greater humanitarian and health care emergency" both in West Africa and abroad, as travelers—and the virus—would inevitable slip through and be harder to track. "The only way to get to zero risk is to stop it there," Frieden said.
Additional reporting by Megan Soll
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