CDC to monitor travelers from West Africa for three weeks

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All travelers who arrive in the United States from Ebola-stricken countries will be closely watched by public health officials starting Monday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced Wednesday.

Dr. Tom Frieden, director of the CDC, said anyone arriving from three countries – Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia – will be required to report their temperature and any potential symptoms to public health officials.

Travelers from Ebola-affected areas, including humanitarian workers and journalists, will also face new rules about where they can travel within the United States.

"These new measures I'm announcing today will give additional levels of safety so that people who develop symptoms of Ebola are isolated quickly," Frieden told reporters during a press briefing.

He said the new rules would have helped Thomas Eric Duncan, who was sent home from a Dallas hospital because personnel there did not know he had traveled to Liberia. Duncan died earlier this month, becoming the first and so far only Ebola fatality in the US.

The restrictions will remain in effect for 21 days after the person arrives in the United States, which covers the disease's incubation period. Frieden said the active monitoring would continue to take place until the end of the outbreak in West Africa.

States will have a large role in determining how to monitor travelers with potential exposure to the disease. That monitoring may take place in-person or through video call services such as Skype, Frieden said.

“CDC has staff in all 50 states, but fundamentally this is an issue for state and local health departments. We’ll be providing both technical assistance and resources to help them do this,” Frieden said.

About 70 percent of all relevant travelers stay in six states: New York, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, New Jersey and Georgia.

The active monitoring will largely be self-reported. Each person arriving from the areas will receive a thermometer, a tracking log, brochures about symptoms and directions about where to go if they develop symptoms.

If someone is known to have had direct exposure to Ebola, they won’t be allowed to travel and could be quarantined. If someone may have had direct contact, the state health department will decide what to do.

The typical arrival with no likely contact will not be limited in their travel, but must still inform the health department about where they intend to go, Frieden said.

The CDC has faced sharp criticism for allowing healthcare workers with exposure to Duncan to board planes and cruise ships in the last month.

Frieden said he is taking the risks of traveling within the United States seriously, and is warning each traveler that if they ignore the new monitoring rules, it could result in their own death as well as the infections and possible deaths of others around them.

The CDC’s latest announcement comes the day after it began requiring travelers from Ebola-stricken countries to enter the U.S. through one of five major airports. Frieden had said the restrictions would help public health officials keep track of people with potential exposure, which could result in early diagnosis and treatment if someone became sick.

CDC did not provide details about the several patients who have been hospitalized in airport screenings in Chicago and northern Virginia. Frieden said only that none of the individuals is considered to have Ebola, though one is still being assessed.

“We’ll continue to do whatever we can to reduce risk to Americans,” Frieden said. “The risk is getting lower through these measures, but until the outbreak is stopped, we can’t make the risk zero here.”

- Elise Viebeck contributed.

 

— This post was updated at 12:48 p.m.