Thursday, October 2, 2014

Ebola Threats at Airports

Hey everyone!

In the light of the Ebola outbreak, I was personally very interested to learn how airports are working to prevent disease transmission. While the chance of an Ebola outbreak in the US is considered to be low, I was still curious to see what kinds of things are being done to screen people who are traveling internationally. 

The conclusive way to test for Ebola is to do a blood test to detect antibodies against the virus, but this is not feasible for thousands of passengers and would greatly delay passengers at airports internationally. This "Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) blood test is not only expensive but also time consuming -- results would take 8 hours to obtain. The NIH has funded $3 million to Corgenix to develop a device that would detect Ebola within 10 minutes in feverish passengers; however, these improved tests are not expected to be available until 2016.

In the meantime, airports have been implementing several different methods to keep passengers safe. After a patient died of Ebola shortly after arriving at an airport in Lagos, aviation officials at airports will be screening patients who arrive from high risk countries, such as Sierra Leone. Some experts have recommended pre-screening passengers similar to the screening methods for suspected terrorism; the screening criteria include where the person has been and the likelihood of contact with the disease. In South Africa, airports will now feature thermal scanners to detect fevers in passengers, although this method was unsuccessful in the 2009 bird flu outbreak.  

While the CDC says that the chance of an Ebola outbreak in the US is very low, several US airports have taken precautions as well. Airports such as Houston and Portland have upped their screening procedures to train personnel to better identify potential Ebola patients. O'Hare International Airport has a special CDC quarrantine 

The CDC is also monitoring US volunteers and officials who have traveled to West Africa; some of these individuals are traveling on "specially equipped medical evacuation planes." There is some controversy about whether the US should restrict flights in and out of West African regions that are affected, which brings up the point that this would close off that region to outside aid. It will definitely be interesting to see how this dilemma unfolds in the coming weeks.

Check here to read more about the efforts & controversy:

- Nicole

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