Ebola: US tightens controls on international travellers

The United States will announce tightened controls on international travellers in the coming days to prevent Ebola from spreading on US soil, health officials said on Tuesday.

Since the first case of Ebola in the US was detected a week ago – a Liberian man in Texas who arrived on September 20 without showing symptoms – there have been calls in Congress and elsewhere for stricter controls. “As the president said yesterday we are looking hard at what we can do to further increase the safety of Americans and in the coming days we will announce further measures that will be taken,” said Tom Frieden, head of the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). 

President Barack Obama said on Monday that new protocols were under study to boost controls on travellers as they left West Africa and upon arrival in the US. Obama said the US could work with Customs officials and Homeland Security to identify people on connecting flights so as to determine their port of entry in the US. 

Charles Schumer, an influential Democratic Senator, said on Tuesday after a conversation with Frieden that Washington would impose measures even tougher than suggested by the president. 

Schumer has said passengers arriving from countries where the tropical virus is taking a heavy toll should have their temperature taken upon arriving in American airports. He pressed Homeland Security to create a database of passengers arriving from West Africa directly or indirectly, to which all American hospitals would have access. 

Ban on flights
Both Obama and Frieden ruled out a ban on flights to and from affected countries, as called for by some lawmakers. Frieden said this would worsen the health crisis by reducing the ability to fight the disease, while stressing that half of all airlines had already stopped serving the affected countries. 

He also hailed the work of the CDC in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea, the three west African states hardest hit by the worst outbreak of Ebola on record, which has killed more than 3 300 people since the start of the year. 

The CDC has trained staffers at West African airports to take travellers temperature before they fly out and have them fill out a questionnaire, he said. Over the past two months, some 36 000 people have undergone such tests, with only a small proportion headed for the US, Frieden said. Of these 36 000, only 77 had a fever or other suspicious symptoms, said Frieden and none of those turned out to have Ebola. 

He also said that in Dallas none of the 48 people who had direct or indirect contact with the Ebola-infected man – 10 had close contact, including three relatives and seven health care workers – were showing symptoms. They will remain under daily observation. 

The incubation period for the disease is two to 21 days. The state of the infected man in Texas, Thomas Eric Duncan, has improved slightly but he remains in critical condition, hospital officials said. Since Saturday, he has been undergoing an experimental treatment. – AFP

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