by Frederick H. Lowe
Entry screenings at five airports for travelers entering the United States from Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone will be increased by two federal agencies to detect the Ebola virus, which has caused large numbers of infections and deaths in those countries.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Department of Homeland Security’s Customs & Border Protection (CBP) announced on Wednesday new layers of screening for JFK International Airport in New York, Newark Airport in Newark, N.J., O’Hare International Airport in Chicago, Hartsfield-Jackson Airport in Atlanta and Washington-Dulles Airport.
Centers for Disease Control officials made the announcement, following the death of Thomas Eric Duncan, a 42-year-old Ebola patient from Liberia. Duncan died on Wednesday in Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital in Dallas, where he had been a patient since Sept. 28.
His body will be treated as hazardous and handled only by specially trained personnel, wearing protective gear. He will be cremated.
In the 12 months ending in July 2014, JFK received nearly half of the travelers from the three West African countries. Enhanced screening at JFK will begin on Saturday. The increased screenings at Washington-Dulles, Newark, O’Hare and Atlanta international airports will start next week. Over 94 percent of travelers from the three countries enter the U.S. through the five airports.
The World Health Organization, which is based in Geneva, reported in June that there were more than 600 cases of Ebola and over 390 deaths in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone.
The often fatal virus is transmitted from wild animals and spreads in the human population through human-to-human transmission, according to the World Health Organization.
“We work continuously to increase the safety of Americans,” said Dr. Tom Frieden, director of the CDC. “We believe these new measures will further protect the health of Americans, understanding nothing we can do will get us to absolute zero risk until we end the Ebola epidemic in West Africa.”
Jeh Johnson, secretary of Homeland Security, said CBP personnel will continue to observe all travelers entering the United States for general overt signs of illness at all U.S. ports of entry.
Travelers from the three West African countries will be escorted to area set aside for screening. CBP staff will observe individuals for signs of illness. Medical personnel will take their temperatures with a non-contact thermometer. If a traveler has a fever, which may reveal a possible Ebola virus, he or she will be evaluated by a public health officer in a CDC quarantine station.