Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Is Airport Screening Just a Screen?

--> As isolated cases of Ebola begin to leak out of Africa and pop up in Europe and America, fears of this disease leaving its home continent have reached an all time high. Recently, a passenger on a US Airways flight was removed by hazmat crews after sneezing and making an Ebola joke. While his joke was clearly in poor taste, the overreaction of both passengers and officials (the plane was coming from Philadelphia) illustrates well just how panicked people have become.
As a precaution against travelers spreading Ebola further, checkpoints throughout international airports have been set up, including places such as London and New York.   The key symptom these stations look for is fever—but is such a non-specific symptom even worth checking? So far  it does not appear that these check points have really picked up any real cases.  At JFK international, although 91 people (as of yesterday) had been screened and flagged, none at all were found to actually test positive for Ebola.  In fact, the one none imported US case (that of now deceased Thomas Eric Duncan in Texas) would not have been noted at these screens—he was asymptomatic when he came into the United States.

All this begs the question: is this screening method actually going to prevent the spread of Ebola into the country? Or are these screenings more a method of public prophylaxes? And if these screenings are for placating the public psyche, does this alone make them worth doing?

Airports and public health officials have tried to do this before when  SARS  broke out in Asia . In Australia alone in 2003, 1.8 million people were screen, 794 were flagged and absolutely no one was confirmed to have SARS.  The same pattern could be seen in Canada and Singapore. The question then becomes: could these resources needed to screen millions of people have been better used somewhere else? And can we say the same thing about our current Ebola screens?

--Lauren Sweet
Sources: http://www.npr.org/blogs/thetwo-way/2014/10/13/355874691/ebola-screening-at-jfk-airport-flagged-91-travelers-none-had-virus

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