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Can airport screenings curb the spread of Ebola?

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease, joins Hari Sreenivasan from Washington, D.C. to discuss how Ebola airport screenings at point of departure and arrival work in tandem to ensure a low likelihood of the spread of disease.

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  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    For the latest on the Ebola scare, we are joined once again from Washington tonight by Dr. Anthony Fauci.

    He is the director of the National Institute of Allergy And Infectious Disease.

    Dr. Fauci, these airport screenings we are now hearing about — they're supposed to give us a snapshot of someone's health. How do they work?

  • ANTHONY FAUCI:

    Well it works in a couple of phases.

    The first is that people who come from the designated areas — the West African areas — will be brought off to the side and first a temperature will be taken, and then there will be history asked as to whether or not they have symptoms, or whether or not they have come into contact to their knowledge with someone who is suspected of or who has Ebola.

    If the temperature is negative, and if in fact the questionnaire proves no risk at all, they will be given instruction on how to monitor themselves over a period of time of 21 days.

    If you then get someone who does have a temperature or does have a suspicion that they were in contact, they would be then handed over to a CDC person who would then go a little bit more depth about the determination of whether or not there is cause to go even further, namely isolate the person or bring them to a facility where they can be observed.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    What we've heard is obviously there is an incubation period where a time that the Ebola virus can get worse in a person up to 21 days.

    So what if when they're getting off the plane, they seem fine?

  • ANTHONY FAUCI:

    Well again, you could never ever get 100 percent risk free, but if you look at the exit screening that will have taken place with those same passengers when they got on the plane in the West African country to come to the United States and superimposed upon that, the entry screening, the risk of missing someone is extraordinarily low.

    It will never be perfect — nothing is perfect when you're dealing with biological phenomenon like symptoms and fever.

    But it really dramatically diminishes the likelihood that someone will get through under those circumstances.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    You know, it seems that the weak link here is someone lying on the answers to the questions survey.

    Is there any sort of database that something that's going to track, "Okay, here's what you said on the survey," if it didn't turn out to be right if that person gets sick later on.

  • ANTHONY FAUCI:

    Well certainly, obviously, if you're gonna to identify someone later on who gets sick, you can go back and look at what the questionnaire was so you can get data.

    But again, I really believe that that is an unlikely event. First of all, they would have to lie about an exposure and yet still be without a fever.

    You put all the things together, the odds ratio of someone getting through is still extraordinarily low.

    I mean we keep coming back to what if this one particular exception, but I think in the big picture, if you look at the likelihood of someone getting through is very very low, particularly now that we superimposed upon this extra layer of entry screening.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    You know, there's also people that are saying that there are conflicting messages that they are getting on.

    On the one hand, we are hearing how difficult it is to get the disease because most people would be exhibiting symptoms if you came in contact with them.

    But on the other hand, we're taking precautionary measures by quarantining, say, the members of an NBC crew that might have had contact with their cameraman.

  • ANTHONY FAUCI:

    Well again, what we're seeing is just the extra layer of caution to try and protect the American people from any possibility of exposure.

    I mean, obviously that may seem like a rather draconian approach, but it isn't. It's trying to do whatever you can within reason to protect the American public.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    And finally, the World Health Organization said earlier this week that the problem is getting worse that Ebola is entrenched in at least the three major capital cities, and it's in other parts of Africa as well, and that we just do not have enough health care workers there to deal with it there.

  • ANTHONY FAUCI:

    Well, at the present time, that is certainly the case. If you look at the numbers of people who are getting infected, the rate at which they are getting infected, at the present time, we are behind the curve.

    But the scaling up of activities, particularly on the part of the United States government, with the military going in, the 3,000 to 4,000 troops going in to provide the logistics, the engineering, and the setting up of the hospital beds.

    And hopefully, other countries will come in also and step up to the plate and put a considerable amount of effort and resources.

    So things are pouring in, but you are absolutely correct. Right now the rate of infection is really quite high.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. Thanks so much.

  • ANTHONY FAUCI:

    Good to be with you.

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