Tuesday, 7 October 2014

Obama Vow on Ebola Screening Means Plugging Airport Gaps

Ebola Outbreak in U.S.
Members of the Cleaning Guys Haz Mat clean up company are seen as they sanitize the apartment where Ebola patient Thomas Eric Duncan was staying before being admitted to a hospital in Dallas, Texas, on Oct. 6, 2014. Photographer: Joe Raedle/Getty Images
President Barack Obama’s pledge to boost screening for Ebola-infected airline passengers will mean devising a way to check thousands of flights arriving daily at U.S. airports for those who are ill but symptom-free.
While United and Delta airlines (DAL:US) are the only U.S.-based operators serving Africa, heightened Ebola vigilance would require a broad net, covering travelers on other nonstop flights from the continent and those who connect via European carriers in hubs such as London and Paris. At-risk fliers would then need to be scrutinized for any history of exposure to the disease.
“It’s probably good politics at this point to say we need better screening and more screening,” said Richard Bloom, director of terrorism, intelligence and security at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Prescott, Arizona. “Unless someone is blatantly symptomatic -- having diarrhea, bleeding from body orifices and vomiting -- it’s very difficult to figure out who might pose more of a risk than others.”
With Ebola spreading in West Africa and the first case diagnosed in the U.S. last month, Obama promised more-rigorous passenger scrutiny yesterday without saying how the plan may work. The Washington-based Airlines for America trade group representing the biggest U.S. carriers said it was discussing Ebola among its members and had asked to be kept informed about any new federal measures.
“There’s a level of anxiousness -- and appropriately so -- from people in the business,” said Peter Goelz, a former managing director of the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board who is now senior vice president at lobbying and consulting firm O’Neill & Associates in Washington. “This is a long-term battle and I don’t see what I think ought to be long-term fixes.”

CDC Standards

Any new policies have to go beyond what’s expected from flight attendants confronted with an ill passenger, Goelz said. Aircraft cleaners and airport workers who push wheelchairs also have to be considered and trained, he said.
Current standards from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for handling possibly infectious body fluids have worked so far, “but I sense it wouldn’t take too much to push it over the edge, for people to say, ‘Wait a minute. Is this enough?’ Goelz said. ‘‘What are we doing to protect our flight crews?’’

Obama Briefing

Obama sought to quell fears about the potential for the virus to spread in the U.S.
‘‘I know that the American people are concerned about the possibility of a Ebola outbreak,’’ Obama said at the White House yesterday after getting briefed on Ebola by his national security team and Thomas Frieden, the CDC director. ‘‘Procedures are now in place to rapidly evaluate anybody who might be showing symptoms.’’
Health officials have ‘‘learned lessons’’ from the case in Dallas and the chance of an epidemic in the U.S. is ‘‘extraordinarily low,’’ he said. To prevent additional infections entering the U.S., the government is ‘‘working on protocols to do additional passenger screening.’’
Officials aren’t now considering a ban on fliers from West Africa, as some U.S. lawmakers have urged, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said.
Ebola has killed more than 3,400 people in Africa, mostly in Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia, and the U.S. is sending as many as 4,000 military personnel to the region to build treatment centers and train health-care workers. The U.S. has committed to spend as much as $1 billion.

U.S. Case

The first confirmed Ebola case in the U.S. is a Liberian man, Thomas Eric Duncan, who arrived in Dallas on Sept. 20 from Brussels. He took two United jets to Dallas, changing planes in Washington, after arriving in the Belgian capital from Monrovia, Liberia.
Connecting passengers such as Duncan show up in U.S. government data as European travelers.
The three largest U.S. airlines -- American (AAL:US) Airlines Group Inc., United Continental Holdings Inc. and Delta Air Lines Inc. (DAL:US) -- had no comment about the administration’s proposal for tighter screening.
Duncan developed symptoms four days after he arrived. Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital in Dallas sent him home after he sought treatment. Obama suggested that Duncan’s failure to be admitted immediately means the hospital didn’t follow CDC guidelines distributed to health-care facilities.

Error Margin

‘‘We don’t have a lot of margin for error,” Obama said. “The procedures and protocols that are put in place must be followed.”
Duncan is listed in critical condition. Candace White, a spokeswoman for the hospital, said yesterday that Duncan had gotten Chimerix Inc.’s experimental medicine brincidofovir, starting on the afternoon of Oct. 4.
Duncan’s diagnosis marks the first time Ebola has been inadvertently carried out of Africa in the almost 40 years since it was discovered. A Spanish nurse also has been diagnosed with the virus at a Madrid hospital where two Ebola patients have been treated. The nurse is the first person known to be infected with Ebola outside of Africa.