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Posted at 10:57 a.m. on July 29, 2014
In what seems to be an increasingly dangerous world, another threat that international travelers can ponder is the largest Ebola outbreak in history.
Stephan Monroe, the deputy director of the Centers for Disease Control’s National Center for Emerging Zoonotic and Infectious Diseases, told reporters Monday that “it’s possible that someone could become infected with the Ebola virus in Africa and then get on a plane to the United States.”
But, he added, “It’s very unlikely that they would be able to spread the disease to fellow passengers.”
In West Africa’s Ebola outbreak, more than 1,201 cases of infection have been reported and 672 people have died in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone.
On Friday, the Nigerian government reported that a man died from Ebola infection after arriving at the Lagos airport from Liberia, where he’d apparently contracted the infection.
The virus, CDC’s Monroe said, “spreads through direct contact with the blood, secretions, or other body fluids of ill people, and indirect contact – for example with needles and other things that may be contaminated with these fluids.”
He said “people do travel between West Africa and the U.S.” and therefore the CDC “needs to be prepared for the very remote possibility that one of those travelers could get Ebola and return to the U.S. while sick.”
The CDC has issued a Health Alert Notice to doctors and nurses which asks them to take travel histories of their patients to identify any who have traveled to West Africa within the last three weeks and to isolate any patient who displays Ebola symptoms.
The CDC also noted in a briefing Monday that the family of an American doctor working in Monrovia, Liberia who has Ebola symptoms and is in isolation, is currently on a 21 day fever watch.
Marty Cetron, the CDC’s director for Global Migration and Quarantine said the most effective way to stop contagious travelers from going to other countries would be screening at exit points from the countries where the Ebola outbreak has occurred.
“When this has been evaluated, the yield is much, much great greater to try to control the disease at the source, and control the screening and close to the source,” Cetron told reporters.
On July 3, the CDC issued an interim guidance to airlines on how to deal with passengers who display Ebola symptoms and disinfect aircraft after a contagious passenger leaves the plane.
The advisory also noted that “the captain of an airliner bound for the United States is required by law to report to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention any ill passengers who meet specified criteria.”
Delta Airlines has nonstop flights from Atlanta to Lagos, Nigeria and from Lagos to Atlanta.
United has nonstop flights from Houston to Lagos.
United spokeswoman Jennifer Dohm said Tuesday, “We have not made any flight changes at this time, but we are in regular communication with government agencies and health officials to monitor this issue and will follow their recommendations.”
United flies an average of five times weekly from Houston to Lagos.
Asked Monday whether the Ebola outbreak would affect the planning for next week’s summit of African leaders in the White House and State Department, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said “we’re taking every precaution, but at this point we don’t believe it will.”