Ebola Screening and Travel

I travel a lot with my family. But often I am called by an airline to see someone who is ill. Don’t travel if you are sick.

As a physician who travels a lot, I have been called on 19 times to see patients who are ill on planes.For that story click here. You should not travel if you are feeling ill. You put yourself in a place where you can not get good medical care as well as puttingt fellow passengers at risk of you transmitting an infectious disease.

Screening for Ebola at airports: the new measures have been announced and they include:
(a) All passengers coming into those five airports will be given an additional form and if they have visited those countries will be screened for a temperature. If they have a temperature they will be sent to
(b) A room to be evaluated by the CDC

West Africa transports 36,000 people per year, about half of them come to the United States. Of those last year about 77 would have been brought in for additional screening. Those 77 would have had malaria. Malaria kills 3000 people per day, and while we have effective treatment for it, in two days more people will die from malaria than all the people who have died from Ebola in the world.

News widely reported that this is the first time such screenings have occurred but are incorrect – previously the US Public Health Service had nurses at all the major airports and they were there to screen any passengers that were ill. Those nurse positions were eliminated after budget cuts to the US Public Health Service.

US Airport workers claim that they have not been trained to clean up should a passenger become sick. However, such a plane would likely undergo cleaning by a Hazmat crew. Most airport workers have been taught to clean up blood – involving changing the seat covers as well as a terminal clean.

Will this be effective? It will no doubt catch those passengers who have malaria, and asymptomatic patients it will not catch – for example, it would not have caught Titus Duncan, the Dallas man who died October 8th from Ebola.

Or consider the case of Australia and the 2003 SARS outbreak. Australia’s airports screened more than 1.8 million incoming passengers for the airborne virus (Ebola is not airborne)  and found 794 with elevated temperatures. They held those travelers for additional testing, but no one turned out to have SARS.
Singapore and Canada saw similar results: millions of passengers screened, and few if any SARS cases detected. Screening only resulted in  thousands of people’s  travel plans disrupted and in some cases were quarantined for days.

If you are sick – don’t travel, unless you are traveling under medical care to obtain treatment.

In the meantime- my international travel will go through airports where I won’t have to undergo this kind of screening or have the plane held up because of that – hello Seattle, Dallas, Chicago, Houston. And coming back to the states, I will come through airports where the screening is done on the other side of the border (Toronto, Ireland).

Dr. Terry Simpson About Dr. Terry Simpson
Dr. Terry Simpson received his undergraduate and graduate degrees from the University of Chicago where he spent several years in the Kovler Viral Oncology laboratories doing genetic engineering. He found he liked people more than petri dishes, and went to medical school. Dr. Simpson, a weight loss surgeon is an advocate of culinary medicine. The first surgeon to become certified in Culinary Medicine, he believes teaching people to improve their health through their food and in their kitchen. On the other side of the world, he has been a leading advocate of changing health care to make it more "relationship based," and his efforts awarded his team the Malcolm Baldrige award for healthcare in 2011 for the NUKA system of care in Alaska and in 2013 Dr Simpson won the National Indian Health Board Area Impact Award. A frequent contributor to media outlets discussing health related topics and advances in medicine, he is also a proud dad, husband, author, cook, and surgeon “in that order.” For media inquiries, please visit www.terrysimpson.com.

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