US to screen travellers from Uganda for Ebola

Health workers screen travellers at an airport. Travellers from Uganda will be screened from five US airports. PHOTO/AFP

What you need to know:

  • Ebola is highly contagious, and previous outbreaks have quickly spiralled out of control. The largest tore through West Africa in 2014 and accounted for more cases than all previous ones combined. By its end, the World Health Organisation (WHO) reported 28,616 cases and 11,310 deaths.
  • The WHO has twice declared a public health emergency of international concern — the organisation’s highest alert — for Ebola: in 2014, and again in 2019, when the virus surfaced in the DR Congo.
  • The vaccines and treatments approved for Ebola target the Zaire species, the primary source of previous outbreaks. But they are ineffective against the Sudan species now circulating in Uganda.

BY New York Times & Monitor reporter

The Biden administration yesterday announced that travellers from Uganda would be redirected to airports where they can be screened for the Ebola Virus Disease and warned physicians to be alert for potential cases in the United States.
No cases of Ebola have yet been reported outside Uganda, but the virus, which spreads only through contact with bodily fluids and is not airborne, is highly contagious. 

American officials are watching the Uganda outbreak closely because there are no approved drugs or treatments for the type of Ebola virus causing the outbreak there.
The director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) ordered the airport screenings, and the State Department issued an alert saying the measures would apply to all passengers, including US citizens.

Screenings were expected to begin yesterday for some passengers, but the travel restrictions will not go into effect until next week, according to an official familiar with the plan, who stressed that both the restrictions and the alert to doctors were issued as precautions.
When contacted, Ambassador Adonia Ayebare, Uganda’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations, acknowledged the measures. 
“The US authorities gave us advance notice before the Ebola control measures were announced. These measures make public health sense, especially ease of contact tracing. The US and Uganda have excellent working corroboration when it comes to public health emergencies like Ebola,” he said.

Uganda’s cases
As of yesterday, there were 44 confirmed cases and 10 deaths in Uganda, with a few dozen possible cases and 20 deaths still under investigation, making this the largest outbreak in that country in 20 years. 
At least six infections and four deaths occurred among healthcare workers. Arriving passengers who have been in Uganda during the past 21 days will be funnelled to one of five US airports: Kennedy Airport in New York, Newark Liberty International Airport(New Jersey) O’Hare International Airport (Chicago), Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport; and Dulles International Airport (Washington, D.C).

An administration official said 62 percent of air passengers who have been to Uganda already go through those airports. Once in the United States, passengers will undergo temperature checks and fill out health questionnaires, which will be shared with local officials, before heading to their final destinations.
The CDC also urged doctors to obtain a travel history from patients whom they suspect of having Ebola.
“While there are no direct flights from Uganda to the United States, travellers from or passing through affected areas in Uganda can enter the United States on flights connecting from other countries,” the CDC alert said.