Monday, October 20, 2014

Screening for Ebola at Airports - Effectiveness?

As many of us are starting to make travel plans back to our hometowns for Thanksgiving, one thing that may be on our minds is how safe is it to travel on airplane these days. With Ebola still making many media headlines, the thought of potential infection is still a scary one that many of us have. Airplanes are particularly a source of concern, with recycled air and oftentimes lack of thorough sanitation.

Professor James Barbaree of Auburn University has long studied bacteria on airplanes. From what he has discovered, when improperly cleaned, many of the airplane surfaces, such as chairs, tray tables, toilets, etc, can all harbor bacteria pathogens for sometimes more than a week. When it comes to Ebola though, the CDC has said that at least on surfaces, Ebola is only able to survive for a few hours. However, if the virus is in some sort of bodily fluid, the virus survival time is extended to several days.

The CDC also claims that Ebola can only transmitted to another person if the infected person is exhibiting symptoms, such as fever. The viral titer in a patient drastically increases as the patient becomes more and more ill, and experiences more symptoms, making their bodily fluids that much more infectious. The spread of Ebola only happens through direct contact with bodily fluids containing the virus. By properly disinfecting with hospital grade disinfectants, such as bleach, it is possible to inactivate Ebola virus.

Given all this information, the CDC supports that the chances of being infected by an Ebola carrier who has no symptoms is low. Given this information, should we be screening people who board planes for fever and other symptoms? Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, Anthony Fauci, believes it is worth our time to continue screening. While screening patients for Ebola might not help curb the spread of the virus to other countries, as intended, if the patient doesn't develops symptoms after they exit the plane, perhaps what the screen can be useful for is preventing the spread of disease to people on the airplane itself. At least if nothing else, screening people may reduce any panic people may have about contracting Ebola while traveling home for Thanksgiving!

-Anna Duan

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