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Feds watch airline passengers for Ebola symptoms

Published August 4, 2014 2:16 pm

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2014, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Washington • Federal agents at U.S. airports are watching travelers from Africa for flulike symptoms that could be tied to the recent Ebola outbreak, as delegations from about 50 countries arrive in the nation's capital for a leadership summit this week.

Border patrol agents at Washington's Dulles International and New York's JFK airports in particular have been told to ask travelers about possible exposure to the virus and to be on the lookout for anyone with a fever, headache, achiness, sore throat, diarrhea, vomiting, stomach pain, rash or red eyes. Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland, which will receive several African heads of state, is screening passengers, too, while U.S. Secret Service agents in charge of security for the three-day summit have been briefed on what to look for and how to respond, officials said Monday.

If a passenger is suspected of carrying the deadly virus, they would be quarantined immediately and evaluated by medical personnel, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which provided the additional training to local airports.

"There is always the possibility that someone with an infectious disease can enter the United States," CDC spokeswoman Barbara Reynolds said Monday. "The public health concern is whether it would spread, and, if so, how quickly.'"

The Ebola virus causes a hemorrhagic fever that has stricken more than 1,600 people, killing at least 887 of them in Liberia, Guinea, Sierra Leone and Nigeria. The virus is spread through direct contact with bodily fluids, such as blood or urine, which is unlike an airborne virus such as influenza or the common cold. A person exposed to the virus can take up to 21 days to exhibit any symptoms, making it possible for infected travelers to enter the U.S. without knowing they have it.

While the CDC says it is not screening passengers boarding planes at African airports — the job of local authorities there — the center said it has encouraged vulnerable countries to follow certain precautions. Outbound passengers in the countries experiencing Ebola are being screened for fevers and given health questionnaires, Reynolds said.

Health officials say the threat to Americans remains relatively small.