Five major airports are conducting Ebola screenings

EbolaPlane

Via Reuters

Five major US airports will soon begin an extra level of screening to try to detect any travelers from Ebola-ravaged countries who might be carrying the disease.

About 150 travelers a day will have their temperatures checked using no-touch thermometers, although health officials expect false alarms from fevers due to malaria.

The extra screening probably would not have picked out Thomas Eric Duncan when he arrived from Liberia last month without symptoms. Mr. Duncan, the first person to be diagnosed with Ebola in the US, died yesterday in Dallas.

The new airport screening will begin on Saturday at New York’s JFK International Airport and then expand to Washington Dulles and the international airports in Atlanta, Chicago and Newark, New Jersey.

The disease has killed at least 3,800 people in West Africa.

Meanwhile, a medical official with the UN Mission in Liberia who tested positive for Ebola arrived in the German city of Leipzig this morning to be treated at a local clinic with specialist facilities, authorities said.

The unidentified medic infected in Liberia is the second member of the UN mission, known as UNMIL, to contract the virus. The first died on September 25th. He is the third Ebola patient to arrive in Germany for treatment.

“The man will be treated on an isolation ward… with strict security measures,” said Dr Iris Minde, head of Leipzig’s St Georg clinic in a statement. “There is no danger of infection for other patients, relatives, visitors or the public.

In the US, Mr. Duncan’s death has renewed questions about his medical care and whether his life could have been extended or saved if the Texas hospital where he first sought help had taken him in sooner

He died a little more than a week after his illness exposed gaps in the nation’s defenses against the disease and set off a scramble to track down anyone exposed to him.

The 42-year-old Liberian had been kept in isolation since September 28th at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital, where he had arrived with fever days earlier and told the staff he had been in West Africa. Doctors initially sent him home but he returned after his condition worsened.

Phil Smith, director of the bio-containment center at Nebraska Medical Center, where a freelance cameraman is being treated for Ebola, said getting early treatment is key to survival.

When a patient reaches the point of needing dialysis and respiratory help, as Mr. Duncan did this week, there could be little doctors can do.

“At that point, any kind of intervention, whether it is an antiviral drug or convalescent plasma, is less likely to work,” said Dr Smith, an infectious disease specialist.

Mr. Duncan carried the virus with him from his home in Liberia, although he showed no symptoms when he left for the US. He arrived in Dallas on September 20th and fell ill several days later.

Of six Ebola patients treated so far in the US, Mr. Duncan was the only one not cared for in one of the special hospital units set up to deal with highly dangerous germs. That is because health officials knew the others had Ebola at the time they decided where the patients should go, whereas Mr. Duncan sought care at Texas Health Presbyterian hospital on his own.

Health officials have said that any hospital with isolation capabilities can treat Ebola patients, but Mr. Duncan’s death is sure to refocus attention on the hospital’s response.

There is no way to know whether any specific treatment or step might have saved Mr. Duncan’s life. At the time of his death, he was taking an experimental antiviral drug.

He died “despite maximal interventions”, said Tom Frieden, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “The earlier someone is diagnosed, the more likely they will be to survive.”

Health officials have identified 10 people, including seven health workers, who had direct contact with Mr. Duncan while he was contagious. Another 38 people might also have come into contact with him. The four people living in the Dallas apartment where he stayed were moved to another home and are in isolation.

Officials have said everyone who had potential contact with Mr. Duncan is being monitored for 21 days, the maximum incubation period for the disease, which can cause vomiting, diarrhea, bleeding and in later stages, damage to vital organs.

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