WASHINGTON – Federal health officials said Monday the U.S. is weighing whether to institute extra screening at U.S. airports where travelers from Ebola-stricken African nations may be arriving, ahead of a White House meeting on the Ebola outbreak.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said “discussion is underway right now” and “all options are being looked at.”
The question, Fauci told CNN, is whether “the extra level of screening is going to be worth the resources you need to put into it.”
“There is clear-cut screening going on in the exit end,” Fauci said, referring to the Ebola-affected countries’ practice of screening outbound passengers before they leave.
The current U.S. discussion, he said, centers on “what kind of screening you do on the entry end. That’s something that’s on the table now.”
The Ebola outbreak is believed to have killed more than 3,400 people in West Africa and has taken the biggest toll in Liberia. Dr. Tom Frieden, director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said officials are looking at all options “to see what we can do to increase safety of all Americans.”
Extra screening might include checking travelers to see if they have a fever, then evaluating them further if they do, he said. He said about 40,000 people had come in to the U.S. from African countries over the past six months, including Americans returning from travels there.
President Barack Obama is scheduled to get an update on Ebola outbreak Monday afternoon from his national security team and other senior officials.
The Obama administration has said that it won’t shut down flights from affected countries, particularly those in West Africa. Fauci reiterated that such a travel ban could end up spreading the epidemic in those countries, making it harder to get aid in, for instance, and further isolating those nations.
Addressing the White House meeting, Frieden told “CBS This Morning,” “We’re going to be covering many aspects and figure out what we can do” to protect Americans and stop the outbreaks.
He added that he was encouraged by ongoing vaccine trials. Fauci noted that the supply of the experimental drug known as ZMapp, which may have helped American health workers who caught Ebola while working in Liberia, is gone.
He said federal officials were helping the drug manufacturer with efforts to boost manufacturing, but that it would be up to two months before any more of the drug is available. Tests on potential vaccines or treatment drugs also need to be done to prove that a drug works. Frieden said he doesn’t believe the disease is going to spread widely in the United States.
The Ebola outbreak is believed to have killed more than 3,400 people in West Africa and has taken the biggest toll in Liberia. There aren’t enough beds in isolation units to keep up with the hundreds who get sick each week.
The U.S. military is beginning work in the Liberian capital Monrovia on the main structure of the 25-bed clinic that will treat health care workers infected with Ebola.
The U.S. has also promised to build 17 other Ebola treatment centers, which would have space for 100 patients each.
Also Monday, an American photojournalist who contracted Ebola while working in Liberia arrived in Nebraska, where he will be treated for the virus that has ravaged West Africa.
Ashoka Mukpo, 33, walked off the plane under his own power before being loaded onto a stretcher for the ambulance ride to the hospital. Mukpo will be the second Ebola patient to be treated at the Nebraska Medical Center’s specialized isolation unit.
He was working in Liberia as a freelance cameraman for NBC News when he became ill last week. Mukpo is the fifth American to return to the United States for treatment since the start of the latest Ebola outbreak.
Meanwhile, a Liberian man with Ebola who started showing symptoms while visiting the U.S. is in critical condition at a Dallas hospital.
Thomas Eric Duncan has been hospitalized at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital since Sept. 28. Frieden said he was aware that Duncan’s health had “taken a turn for the worse,” but he declined to describe Duncan’s condition further.
Duncan arrived in Dallas on Sept. 20 and fell ill a few days later. Officials say 10 people definitely had close contact with Duncan and a further 38 may have been around him when he was showing symptoms of the disease.
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