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Major airports nationwide screening for Ebola

BY CORY PORTER | OCTOBER 20, 2014 5:00 AM

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As major airports around the country started screening certain passengers for signs of Ebola, airports in Iowa have continued to operate normally.

With people coming from western Africa to the United States through Chicago’s O’Hare, New Jersey’s Newark, New York’s Kennedy, Washington’s Dulles, and Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson Airports, those five have began screening passengers.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 94 percent of people coming form Sierra Leone, Guinea, and Liberia arrive at one of those five airports. The three African countries began the screening process in tandem with the United States.

Because of the screening at the larger airports, Heather Wilson, director of marketing and communication at the Eastern Iowa Airport, said that airport does not plan to introduce any screening measures for Ebola.

“At the other airports, there’s no screening, [because] it’s all being taken care of at those points of entry,” Wilson said.

The Des Moines International airport will also refrain from screening for Ebola, said Kevin Foley, the executive director of the airport.

“That’s a decision for the emergency management … unless this becomes more of a pandemic, then probably not,” Foley said. “Hopefully, we can prevent the spread in the U.S.”

The biggest concern for the Des Moines airport is the spread of the flu, especially during the fall, he said.

“We step it up for flu, [because] it is more frequent this type of year,” Foley said.

The airport cleaning staff works throughout the day, mopping the floors with disinfectant, cleaning restrooms, and wiping down touch points — doorknobs, arm rests, and drinking fountains — to minimize the spread of the flu and germs in general, he said.

“That’s one of the disadvantages with aviation, is that within 24 hours, a disease or a contagious person can be anywhere in the world,” Foley said.

Doug Beardsley, the director of the Johnson County Public Health Department, said the screenings the airports have implemented for diseases in general make sense.

“From a public-health standpoint, you want to keep people who are contagious away from crowds anywhere, particularly on an airplane,” he said.

Airport officials are not only screening passengers when they arrive in the United States but beforehand as well.

The Des Moines airport even went so far as to hire a medical firm in previous years to come to the airport to give flu shots to passengers.

The airport did not hire the medical firm last year to give flu shots, because of the ease of access elsewhere, Foley said, but it would be different if there was a vaccination for Ebola.

“If there was an Ebola vaccination, the lines would be out the door,” he said.

The CDC estimated that in 2010, influenza and pneumonia resulted in 50,097 deaths in the United States, making it the ninth leading cause of death.

As of this year, 4,493 people have died from Ebola, with only one death occurring in the United States, according to the CDC.

“I think it’s still real important to keep it in perspective,” Beardsley said. “The risk to the general public is almost negligible.”


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