US Will Screen Air Passengers For Signs Of Ebola. Will It Work?

Maryn McKenna | WIRED | October 9, 2014

If you’ve been following the Ebola story, you may have noticed that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced a move yesterday to try to keep the disease off US soil. At the five US airports that receive most passengers from the three countries where Ebola is circulating, passengers will be singled out on the basis of their travel records; interviewed by means of a questionnaire; and have their temperature taken, to see if they have a fever.

It’s the first attempt to control Ebola at the US border, announced, probably coincidentally, on the same day as the death of the only Ebola patient to make it into the US thus far. Political pressure for the CDC to do something was growing, and some visible step was necessary. But in the public health world, I am hearing some doubt whether it will work. Here are some reasons why.

The first reason is that passengers’ routes may be murky. If you check airline routing sites (I like Skyscanner), you’ll see that there are no direct flights between the United States and those three countries. Passengers who can find flights — some are still running — connect through Brussels, Frankfurt, Paris, sometimes even Toronto.  If the connection is immediate, off one plane and onto another, the itinerary is easy to trace...