WHO: Ebola screenings will have 'limited effect'

The entry screenings for Ebola imposed in the United States are not a cost-effective way to keep out the virus, leaders of the World Health Organization (WHO) warned Thursday.

Entry screenings require big commitments of resources but are likely to have “a limited effect” in containing the disease, said the organization’s assistant director-general for health and security, Dr. Keiji Fukuda.

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“You need a lot of resources to do it well,” Fukada told reporters during a briefing Thursday. “If you find people who have fever, how are you going to handle them? How are you going to treat them?”

He said screenings are more likely to have a "psychological impact" by discouraging travel from West Africa.

The remarks followed a three-hour meeting of the Ebola emergency committee, led by WHO Director-General Dr. Margaret Chan. It marks the third time the committee has met since August.

The WHO argued that airport exit screenings in West African countries are more likely to prevent the spread of Ebola. At least 77 people have been stopped from boarding planes because of potential Ebola exposure, the White House said earlier this month.

Still, the WHO acknowledged that the system remains imperfect and that it cannot stop every traveler who has been exposed to Ebola.

Airport screenings, in general, have worked better than the WHO had hoped, Fukada said, with just a pair of travelers spreading the disease outside of West Africa. He said WHO officials have been surprised that more Ebola-infected travelers have not tried to enter other countries.

“We might have expected to see more people traveling,” Fukuda said.

The U.S. announced this week that every traveler from the three Ebola-stricken countries would have to enter the country through one of five airports. Those travelers will then have to report their temperatures to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) every day throughout the three-week incubation period.

The Liberian man who unknowingly carried Ebola into the U.S. last month led to the infection of two other Americans, who helped treat him before he died.

Those three cases have stirred public fear in the U.S. and prompted calls to close the country's borders to West African travelers.

WHO officials amplified their opposition to blanket travel bans from Ebola-affected areas, where 4,900 people have died from the disease.

“There should be no general ban on international travel or trade,” said Dr. Isabelle Nuttall, the WHO’s health security response chief.

The epidemic is not likely to slow until December at the earliest, as the number of cases continues to grow exponentially in the three worst-hit countries, the WHO predicts.

“It clear that it remains quite a challenge right now. We still see the numbers going up,” Fukada said.