NEWS

Ebola screening to be stepped up at U.S. airports, Canadian border

10/08/2014 06:23 EDT | Updated 12/08/2014 05:59 EST
Travellers coming from Ebola-affected West African countries to the U.S. can expect enhanced screening and temperature checks as health officials step up efforts to prevent the spread of the disease. Canada will also use temperature screening in some cases, officials say.

To date, there has been just one confirmed case of Ebola diagnosed in the U.S. and none in Canada.

The risk to Canadians and Americans remains low, health officials in both countries say, but U.S. Centres for Disease Control Director Tom Frieden noted Wednesday that as long as the outbreak continues in several West African nations that "we can't get the risk to zero in this country."

The U.S. plans on introducing temperature checks on people arriving from affected areas at major airports, beginning with:

- John F. Kennedy International Airport.

- Newark Liberty International Airport.

- Washington Dulles International Airport.

- Chicago O’Hare International Airport.

- Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport.

Travellers coming from Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone to U.S. airports will have to answer questions about possible Ebola risk factors, have their temperature taken and "be observed for other symptoms" of the disease, Homeland Security says. Travellers who have been exposed to Ebola or show symptoms will be referred to the CDC for more detailed evaluations.

"These measures are really just belt-and-suspenders — it's an added layer of protection on top of the procedures already in place at several airports," Obama told state and local officials in a teleconference call Wednesday.

Obama said the new measures also will include more screening questions for passengers arriving from the countries worst hit by the outbreak — Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea. He said the procedures will allow United States officials to isolate, evaluate and monitor travellers and collect any information about their contacts.

At a news conference Wednesday, the CDC director said roughly 95 per cent of the 150 travellers who arrive in the U.S. from the three hardest-hit African countries pass through the airports that will have the enhanced controls.

The screening will start at New York's JFK International on Saturday before being rolled out at other airports, Frieden said.

The screening is already secondary to an initial check of passengers when they leave affected areas.

No direct flights to Canada

There are no direct flights to Canada from the affected countries, but Canada is also making changes to the screening process.

Canada will also use “targeted temperature screening” at borders, a statement from Canada’s chief public health officer said Wednesday.

Canada already has a regulation in place that requires travellers to Canada to tell border officers if "they think they might be sick with a contagious illness or been in close contact with someone else who does," the statement from Dr. Gregory Taylor’s office said.

If these travellers "identify themselves in this manner" a temperature check will be administered, the statement said.

Taylor has previously said that trained nurses serving as quarantine officers have been made available to conduct detailed health assessments and decide if more action is needed.

Frieden outlined the measures Wednesday at a news conference about the death of Thomas Eric Duncan, the first patient to be diagnosed with Ebola in the U.S.

Some diseases — Ebola is one of them — can take a long time to make someone sick. The incubation period for the disease can be as long as 21 days after exposure to the virus, during which time the person would appear and feel well. With Ebola, it is believed people are only contagious when they have symptoms.

Ebola has likely claimed nearly 3,900 lives in West Africa, the World Health Organization said today. The health organization said there is "no evidence" the Ebola epidemic in West Africa is being brought under control, though there are some signs of a decline in the number of cases in some districts.

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