How airports are trying to keep Ebola out of the country

Amid growing concern about the potential spread of Ebola in the United States, federal officials on Tuesday said the government will implement additional screening measures for travelers flying to the country, the New York Times reports.

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CDC Director Thomas Frieden says the agency is considering various tactics, including taking at-risk passengers' temperatures and administering a detailed survey upon their arrival. Frieden says, "I can assure you that we will be taking additional steps, and we will be making those public in the coming days once we can work out the details." Frieden added that officials are "working very intensively" on the "entire [screening] process to see what more can be done."

On Wednesday, CDC announced that it will screen for fevers in passengers arriving from Sierra Leone, Guinea, and Liberia to five U.S. airports:

  • Kennedy International in New York;
  • Washington Dulles International;
  • O'Hare International in Chicago;
  • Hartsfield-Jackson International in Atlanta; and
  • Newark Liberty International in New Jersey.

Further, the U.S. Coast Guard also will implement additional screenings on cargo ship personnel arriving in U.S. ports from Ebola-stricken countries, according to an announcement from Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.).

Frieden urges caution, feds avoid travel ban

However, Frieden cautioned against using measures that could have more harm than benefits. He said, "We recognize that whatever we do, until the disease is controlled in Africa, we can't get the risk to zero here. We may be able to reduce it and we'll look at every opportunity to do that."

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Federal officials stopped short of implementing a travel ban on countries most affected by the virus. Frieden said, "In medicine, one of our cardinal rules is above all do no harm. If we do something that impedes our ability to stop the outbreak in West Africa, it could spread further there, we could have more countries like Liberia, and the challenge would be much greater and go on for a longer time."

According to Harvard University public health professor and infectious diseases specialist Barry Bloom, placing a travel ban on the most-affected countries would restrict the ability of international aid workers to help contain Ebola and would further harm the countries. He said, "Given the fragmented and broken health care systems in these countries, controlling the disease means getting people from the outside to fly in and to come out again. A travel ban on those countries would probably be counterproductive" and "take away the expertise that is needed."

Additional screenings, travel bans might be fruitless

According to Washington Post's "Post Nation," eliminating the risk of Ebola through screenings is difficult, because an individual can have the disease for up to three weeks before experiencing symptoms. In such cases, thermometers and visual inspections would not detect the virus.

In addition, some passengers might not fill out questionnaires honestly because they fear their answers could mean they cannot leave the affected countries. Other passengers might not realize they came in contact with someone infected with Ebola.

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Meanwhile, placing a travel ban on the most-affected nations would also be difficult for the U.S. to implement because there are no direct flights from the three most-affected West African nations to the U.S. That means such a ban would have to affect various airports and connections throughout the world. In addition, travelers who book flights from Ebola-stricken countries to other nations could then book additional flights to the U.S., without the U.S. Customs and Border Protection's knowledge that they originated in West Africa (Shear/Tavernise, New York Times, 10/8; Mouawad, New York Times, 10/7; Berman [1], "Post Nation," Washington Post, 10/7; Nicas, Wall Street Journal, 10/7; Caygle, Politico, 10/7; Berman [2], "Post Nation," Washington Post, 10/7).

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