US resumes airport screening for Ebola as Uganda outbreak swells

The Biden administration announced Thursday that it plans to funnel all passengers flying to the U.S. from Uganda through five international airports for “enhanced screening,” in response to the growing Ebola outbreak in Uganda.

The move, which the State Department said would take effect at midnight Friday, revives a series of measures implemented by federal health authorities in response to previous Ebola outbreaks abroad as recently as 2016. In 2021, the CDC also passengers were rerouted from the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Guinea to collect contact information.

Airlines will be required to route passengers who have been in Uganda in the past three weeks through one of five airports:

  • New York John F. Kennedy International Airport
  • Newark Liberty International Airport
  • Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport
  • Chicago O’Hare International Airport
  • Washington Dulles International Airport.

There, passengers will undergo “enhanced screening” measures designed to assess whether they have symptoms of the disease before they are allowed to continue to their destinations.

The change applies to all passengers, including US citizens, the State Department said.

Experts say the move can prevent travelers who feel sick after recently being in Uganda from trying to fly to the US

A previous attempt to conduct exit and entry control for Ebolapost case in 2014, identified seven travelers with possible symptoms — none of whom were ultimately diagnosed with the disease. A traveler who was removed from screening later developed symptoms and tested positive for the virus after arriving in the US

Ebola infections usually begin with symptoms such as fever and fatigue, before progressing to more severe vomiting, diarrhea, bleeding, and often death. The World Health Organization says the virus can have an incubation period of up to three weeks after exposure before symptoms begin.

The move comes as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has stepped up warnings to doctors and health departments about the outbreak, urging them to immediately screen any suspected cases for their recent travel history.

The CDC says the risk of Ebola spreading in the US is low. Shocks in Uganda have not been detected in either the country’s capital or the travel hub.

However, the CDC says “precautionarily” that it hopes to raise awareness about the virus given the number of swelling cases in Uganda.

“While there are no direct flights from Uganda to the United States, travelers from or transiting through the affected areas in Uganda may enter the United States on flights connecting other countries,” the agency said in a health alert. which was published on Thursday.

The Biden administration has touted its response to the outbreak, which includes CDC staff in collaboration with health officials in Uganda. Health and Human Services Minister Xavier Becerra spoke to his Ugandan counterpart on Tuesday, pledging support for the country’s campaign to end the epidemic and expressing his sympathy for those who have been killed by the virus so far.

Since the outbreak was first announced on September 20, the World Health Organization said this week that there have been 63 confirmed or probable cases of Ebola. At least 29 people have lost their lives.

The strain of Ebola behind the outbreak is known as the Sudan virus, which spreads mainly through close contact with blood or other body fluids.

The World Health Organization reports that the proportion of cases in previous outbreaks who died from Sudanese Ebola virus infections ranged between 41% and 100%.

Unlike some other Ebola viruses, there are currently no licensed vaccines or treatments to control Sudan virus. The Ervebo vaccine doses in the US Strategic National Stockpile are not expected to work for Sudan virus infections, the CDC said.

A vaccine candidate from Johnson & Johnson supported by the National Institutes of Health that may work against Sudan virus is still in clinical trials. The WHO said the Johnson & Johnson vaccine “may be effective but has not yet been specifically tested against Ebola in Sudan.”

On the treatment front, the U.S. Strategic Readiness and Response Command announced Tuesday that it will allocate about $110 million to accelerate the development of a monoclonal antibody drug for Sudan virus by Mapp Biopharmaceutical.

“If approved this treatment will put the US in a better position to prepare for and respond to potential future Ebola cases. Given the current Ebola outbreak in Sudan in Uganda, this work is now even more important,” said Assistant Secretary Preparedness and Response Dawn O’Connell in a statement.

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