Travel News

Should Airports Screen Passengers for the Ebola Virus?

Locations in this article:  Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates Dubai, United Arab Emirates

cbs On Tuesday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced the first diagnosed case of Ebola in the United States. As a result, travelers worldwide are concerned about screening at international airports.

Dr. Thomas Frieden, Director of the CDC, said in a statement yesterday: “At this point, there is zero risk of transmission…There’s no reason to think that anyone on the flight he was on would be at risk.”

At present, there is not an effective program in most countries to screen for Ebola worldwide.

But there is precedent for it. In 2001, with hoof and mouth disease in the United Kingdom, passenger screening consisted of asking airlines passengers if they had been on a farm within the last 14 days. In 2002, when the SARS outbreak happened in China, passengers couldn’t get on or off an airplane in China without being stopped for a temperature check.

But, now? There’s no real passenger screening except to answer some general questions on paper in a limited number of countries.

So, what needs to be done? It’s all about two words that start with C—connecting passengers, and…the conversation. First, it’s not just about point to point long haul travel—there are no nonstop flights from Liberia or Sierra Leone, to the U.S., for example. It’s about connecting flights from those affected areas through major international airports in Europe and Asia and then on to the U.S.

Consider this: about 70 to 80 percent of the passengers who fly to Dubai, Abu Dhabi, or Doha are not going to those cities or countries, but traveling through them to other destinations. Translation: proper and effective screening needs to be done at those connecting points, and that screening needs to be done…with a conversation.

Since the incubation period for Ebola is anywhere from 2 to 21 days, it’s highly likely that most travelers who could be Ebola victims are asymptomatic at the point when they are airline passengers. That’s where the conversation comes in—asking those people arriving from high risk locations how long they were there, where they stayed, and talking to them about any medical problems they might be experiencing—or if they had come in contact with anyone who was experiencing problems.

In the meantime, and until more effective screening protocols are established, here are my tips for staying healthy—or healthier—during this scare:

Practice basic hygiene—keep your hands clean and use antiseptic wipes. Washing your hands regularly—and keeping them clean—is the first line of defense you should keep in mind at all times. On the plane, wipe down your seat and tray table, and use disinfectant after touching surfaces.

Watch the video below to find out how the Ebola virus is affecting air travel, what you need to know, and what you can do to stay healthy.