Travelers from Ebola-stricken countries in West Africa will have their temperature taken and fill out a questionnaire when they arrive at one of five major U.S. airports, officials announced Wednesday. The screenings will start Saturday at New York’s JFK International Airport. Washington-Dulles, Newark, Chicago-O’Hare, and Atlanta international airports will come on line next week.
Those airports handle 94 percent of the travelers from Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone, where more than 3,400 people have died from Ebola. The screenings were announced on same day Thomas Eric Duncan died in a Dallas hospital of an Ebola infection he contracted in Liberia. Duncan entered the United States through Dulles last month.
Travelers from the virus-hit countries were already being screened at African airports, with at least 77 people have been blocked from coming to the United States. But now staff from the Centers for Disease Control will be at the five airports to check passengers deemed exposure risks by customs officers.
At a briefing on Wednesday afternoon, CDC Director Dr. Thomas Frieden said that only about 150 people per day would likely be affected by the enhanced screening process. He also noted that most people who come from Africa with a fever usually have malaria, which can only be spread by mosquitoes.
Passengers who don't have any symptoms or likely exposure will be asked to take their temperature every day and provide contact information. Ebola is only contagious when someone has symptoms — but because there's a gap between the time that someone is infected and when they start feeling sick, it's possible for someone who feels fine at the airport to start showing symptoms after they leave.
Duncan did not become sick until he was in Dallas — but officials have said he falsely denied having contact with anyone infected with Ebola and would have been kept in Liberia if he told screeners he had helped take a dying neighbor to the hospital days earlier.
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