Health Expert: Airport Ebola Screening Inefficient; Political Ploy

by :  A global health professor at Georgetown University expressed concern this week that new measures announced to keep Ebola out of the United States are merely a response to “political outcry” meant to make the public believe the government is working to prevent its spread, not actual proven methods of securing our travel.

Professor Larry Gostin told Minnesota Public Radio this week that many of the new safeguards in American airports have failed elsewhere around the world, and while they may make Americans feel safer, they might not necessarily make a difference.

The US Center for Disease Control (CDC) announced this week that five major airports would now require of passengers to undergo “enhanced” screening for Ebola, which includes a health questionnaire, temperature measurements, and receipt of reading materials for “self-monitoring” once released from the airport. Gostin argued that these sorts of measures are often a “reply to that political outcry” that follows a negative turn in public sentiment. Governments around the world, he argued, are “under a lot of pressure to do something [to] make the public feel reassured, even if it really doesn’t make them safer.”

“Fever screening can be unobtrusive, but let’s not have the false impression that this is a tried-and-true method and it’s going to keep Ebola out of the United States,” he tells MPR, “It’s just not the case.” He added that he did not believe there was much evidence indicating that checking passengers for fever has successfully prevented anyone from traveling due to having contracted Ebola, and that some countries, now knowing of enhanced screenings, even provide passengers with medication on the plane to keep their temperatures down.

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During the recent outbreak of SARS in the country, one Chinese airline, Gostin recalls, gave passengers acetaminophen on the plane to ensure they would pass temperature screenings upon arriving in the United States from Beijing.

Gostin’s testimony echoes that of many experts who are tracking the development of this outbreak. Heinz Feldmann, a virologist specializing in the study of Ebola, predicted in September that temperature screenings in Monrovia, Liberia, would be “useless” in preventing anyone from leaving the country. Among the reasons the screenings did not work, he argued, was that those in charge of screenings are rarely sufficiently trained. In Liberia, he noted, he witnesses screeners take passengers’ temperatures and writing down official temperatures that were scientifically impossible for a human being to live through: “They are writing down temperatures of 32°C, which everybody should know is impossible for a living person.”

The United States’ first patient to test positive for the Ebola virus, Thomas Eric Duncan, arrived from Liberia to the United States despite these screenings. Before his death yesterday, the Liberian government announced their intention to prosecute him upon his return to Liberia for lying on his travel questionnaire, claiming to have never knowingly come into contact with anyone displaying symptoms of the virus.

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