WASHINGTON — Ahead of a White House meeting on the Ebola outbreak, 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.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said “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 screening of outbound passengers before they leave Ebola-affected countries. 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.”
Dr. Tom Frieden of the 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.
Five Americans have returned from Africa to the United States for treatment since the start of the latest Ebola outbreak, which the World Health Organization estimates has killed more than 3,400 people. A Liberian man with Ebola who started showing symptoms while visiting the U.S. is in critical condition at a Dallas hospital.
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 them from treatment.
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. Moreover, tests on potential vaccines or treatment drugs 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.
“We can stop it in its tracks here, which we are doing,” he said.
The Ebola 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.