Airports in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone are relying on a familiar tool to stop the spread of Ebola: the thermometer.
Airport staff are measuring the temperature of anyone trying to leave the country, looking for “unexplained febrile illness,” according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which is advising these countries on their exit screening processes.
Other countries that are far from the infected region are screening passengers arriving from West Africa or who have a history of travel to the region. Temperature takers include Russia, Australia and India.
Travelers who exhibit an elevated fever, generally over 101.4 degrees Fahrenheit (though it varies by country), are stopped for further screening. That could mean a questionnaire or medical tests.
Critics of exit screening have pointed out the flaws in using thermometers: fever can lay dormant for two to 21 days in someone who’s been infected with Ebola, and low-grade fevers can be lowered further by simple medications like Tylenol or Advil.
While they can’t predict symptoms before they emerge, the CDC is prepared to thwart those trying to mask a fever with a pill.
“Airline and airport staff are trained to do visual checks of anyone who looks even slightly ill,” says Tai Chen, a quarantine medical officer from the CDC who returned from Liberia this past Tuesday. “And most airports are using multiple temperature checks, starting when you arrive on the airport grounds in your car until you get on the plane. Even if you take medication, your fever will likely have manifested by then.”
Photo: A Nepalese health worker uses a handheld infrared thermometer on a passenger arriving at Nepal’s only international airport in Kathmandu. (Prakash Mathema/AFP/Getty Images)