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CDC will monitor travelers from Ebola-stricken countries for 21 days

Health workers carried the body of a man suspected to have died of the Ebola virus Tuesday on the outskirts of Monrovia, Liberia.
Health workers carried the body of a man suspected to have died of the Ebola virus Tuesday on the outskirts of Monrovia, Liberia. AP

Health authorities will monitor people traveling into the U.S. from Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea for Ebola for 21 days, as the outbreak of the deadly virus remains “persistent and widespread” in the West African countries.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will ask people whose travel originates in the three countries to give their name and contact information, and U.S. states will follow up with personal monitoring to check for any symptoms of the virus, CDC Director Thomas Frieden said Wednesday.

Health workers will take travelers’ temperatures once a day, and people will have to report by phone or in person until they pass the three-week incubation period for the infection. Monitoring by six states – New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Georgia, Virginia and Maryland – will begin Oct. 27.

“State and local authorities can require participation in a program meant to prevent the spread of communicable disease,” Frieden said on a conference call. Other states will begin the program in the coming days, he said.

Travelers will have to tell health authorities if they plan any additional travel inside the U.S., and if they don’t report in, states will track them down, Frieden said.

The U.S. monitoring program will last until the outbreak in West Africa is contained, Frieden said.

The Ebola outbreak in West Africa has infected 9,911 people in the three countries, including almost 1,000 new cases reported in the week ending Oct. 19. About half of those have died, the World Health Organization said today.

The virus “transmission remains persistent and widespread,” the WHO said Wednesday, and “intense in the capital cities of the three most-affected countries. Case numbers continue to be under-reported, especially from the Liberian capital Monrovia.”

Seventy percent of travelers from the three countries where the Ebola outbreak is concentrated end up in the six U.S. states that will begin the monitoring, Frieden said. The U.S. had announced a plan requiring all travelers coming from the three countries to arrive at five major U.S. airports that have screening in place.

“This is another step,” Frieden said. “The risk is getting lower with these measures but until the outbreak is stopped, we can’t make the risk zero.”

There is no approved cure for Ebola. The virus spreads from contact with bodily fluids such as blood and vomit. Among the early symptoms is a fever. Current care involves supporting the patient with fluids and trying to fight off opportunistic infections.

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