NEW YORK - People who contract Ebola in West Africa can get through airport screenings and onto a plane with a lie and a lot of ibuprofen, according to healthcare experts who believe more must be done to identify infected travelers.
At the very least, they said, travelers arriving from Ebola-stricken countries should be screened for fever, which is currently done on departure from Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone. But such safeguards are not foolproof.
"The fever-screening instruments run low and aren't that accurate," said infection control specialist Sean Kaufman, president of Behavioral-Based Improvement Solutions, a biosafety company based in Atlanta.
"And people can take ibuprofen to reduce their fever enough to pass screening, and why wouldn't they? If it will get them on a plane so they can come to the United States and get effective treatment after they're exposed to Ebola, wouldn't you do that to save your life?"
On Thursday, Liberia said the first Ebola patient to be diagnosed in the United States had lied on a questionnaire at the Monrovia airport about his exposure to an Ebola patient. He flew to Brussels and then Dulles airport outside Washington, D.C., before landing in Dallas on Sept. 20.
The traveler, Thomas Eric Duncan, had no symptoms when he left Liberia, and fever scans there had shown a normal body temperature of 97.3 degrees Fahrenheit, US health officials said. He therefore could not have been identified through examination as carrying the Ebola virus.
His arrival and hospitalization in Dallas have underscored how much US authorities are relying on their counterparts in West African countries to screen passengers and contain the worst Ebola outbreak on record.
Part of the screening burden rests on connecting airports.
For example, Kaufman flew from Monrovia to Casablanca to London to Atlanta. He was fever-screened in Monrovia and Casablanca, but not London's Heathrow, he said, and not when he arrived in Atlanta.
"At Heathrow, there were no questions about where I had come from," he said. "I offered the information to the official in Atlanta, and he said, 'Thank you. Be safe.'"
In August, experts from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) began teaching airport workers in Monrovia and other cities in the Ebola zone to conduct screenings, CDC medical worker Tai Chen said in an interview.