People who contract Ebola in West Africa can get through airport screenings and onto a plane with a lie and a lot of ibuprofen, according to healthcare experts who believe more must be done to identify infected travelers. At the very least, they said, travelers arriving from Ebola-stricken countries should be screened for fever, which is currently done on departure from Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone. But such safeguards are not foolproof.
“The fever-screening instruments run low and aren’t that accurate,” said infection control specialist Sean Kaufman, president of Behavioral-Based Improvement Solutions, a biosafety company based in Atlanta. “And people can take ibuprofen to reduce their fever enough to pass screening, and why wouldn’t they? If it will get them on a plane so they can come to the United States and get effective treatment after they’re exposed to Ebola, wouldn’t you do that to save your life?” On Thursday, Liberia said the first Ebola patient to be diagnosed in the United States had lied on a questionnaire at Monrovia’s airport about his exposure to an Ebola patient. Thomas Eric Duncan’s arrival and hospitalization in Dallas have underscored how much U.S. authorities are relying on their counterparts in West African countries to screen passengers and contain the worst Ebola outbreak on record.
Virologist Heinz Feldmann of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases has studied Ebola for years and helped develop an experimental Ebola vaccine. He told Science magazine in September that airport screeners in Monrovia, where he spent three weeks, “Don’t really know how to use the devices.” He said he saw screeners record temperatures of 32 degrees C (90 F), which is so low it “is impossible for a living person.” Feldmann said in an email that according to his colleagues who have returned from Liberia in the last few days procedures for taking temperatures and doing clinical checks have improved.