Although it won’t detect asymptomatic carriers of Ebola (the incubation period runs up to 21 days) or those less than forthright about their previous Ebola exposures, the US has announced limited targeted screening of visitors with recent travel history to Liberia, Guinea, or Sierra Leone (see CDC Statement On Airport Screening Of Arrivals From West Africa).
While there are some benefits to this type of screening, no one should be overly reassured that this will completely block the entry of Ebola cases into the United States.
Eric Duncan was reportedly asymptomatic when he left Liberia and again when he arrived stateside, only falling ill several days later. So he would have likely passed through this type of screening. Still, even when the benefits may be limited, it is often better to do something rather than nothing.
This fact sheet helps explain the measures the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Department of Homeland Security’s Customs and Border Protection, and their partners are taking at airports both in the United States and in affected countries in West Africa to prevent the spread of Ebola.
Exit screening in countries with Ebola outbreaks
Since the beginning of August, CDC has been working with airlines, airports, ministries of health, and other partners to provide technical assistance to countries with Ebola outbreaks. CDC has helped affected countries screen departing travelers from these countries (exit screening). Exit screenings are conducted at airports in these outbreak-affected countries to look for sick travelers or travelers exposed to Ebola and to delay them from boarding an airplane until it is safe for them to travel.
We continue to support and strengthen exit screening in these countries with CDC staff, protocols, and educational materials. What exit screening looks like Exit screening might look a little different in each country but contains the same basic elements.
1. All travelers
- Have their temperature taken
- Answer questions about their health and exposure history
- Are visually assessed for signs of potential illness
2. Travelers with symptoms or possible exposures to Ebola are separated and assessed further.
3. This assessment determines whether they are
- Allowed to travel
- Not allowed to travel on a commercial flight and referred to public health authorities for further evaluation
Entry screening in the United States
Looking for sick travelers at U.S. airports Every day, CDC works closely with partners at U.S. international airports and other ports of entry to look for sick travelers with possible contagious diseases. These measures will be enhanced to detect possible cases of Ebola.Because of the Ebola outbreak, CDC and Customs and Border Protection (CBP) are beginning enhanced entry screening of travelers who have traveled from or through Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone. By doing enhanced entry screening at 5 U.S. airports, we will evaluate over 94% of travelers from the affected countries. Our staff at all airports remain trained and ready to respond to any reports of ill travelers, and our robust public health system is prepared to respond and assist.
What enhanced U.S. entry screening looks like
For each arriving traveler who has been in Guinea, Liberia, or Sierra Leone:
1. CBP will give each traveler health information that includes
- Information about Ebola
- Symptoms to look for and what to do if symptoms develop
- Information for doctors if travelers need to seek medical attention
2. Travelers will undergo screening measures to include:
- Answer questions to determine potential risk
- Have their temperature taken
- Be observed for other symptoms of Ebola
3. If a traveler has a fever or other symptoms or has been exposed to Ebola, CBP will refer to CDC to further evaluate the traveler. CDC will determine whether the traveler
- Can continue to travel
- Is taken to a hospital for evaluation, testing, and treatment
- Is referred to a local health department for further monitoring and support
Entry screening is a part of a layered approach. When used with other public health measures, entry screening can strengthen our efforts to battle this virus. It is important that we act as global citizens, continuing to put our full weight behind response efforts in West Africa and providing support for those traveling here from that region.