US to screen travellers from Uganda for Ebola as ‘precaution’

Officials note that risk of Ebola outbreak in the US remains low, and no cases have been confirmed outside of Uganda.

Members of Doctors without Borders set up an Ebola treatment unit in Uganda.
Members of Doctors Without Borders set up an Ebola treatment isolation unit at the Mubende regional referral hospital in Uganda on September 24 [Bardu Katumba/AFP]

President Joe Biden’s administration has announced it will test US-bound travellers from Uganda for Ebola, funnelling passengers through five airports that will conduct the screenings.

The administration made the announcement on Thursday, and screenings are expected to begin immediately. Travellers who have been in Uganda at any point during the past three weeks will be redirected to airports carrying out testing.

“Out of an abundance of caution, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Customs and Border Protection (CBP) will apply new layers of screening at these five US airports in response to the Ebola outbreak in Uganda,” the US embassy in Kampala said.

The US is considered at low risk of an Ebola outbreak, and no cases have been confirmed outside Uganda. A US official speaking with the Associated Press called the screenings an ‘additional precaution’.

The CDC said the outbreak appeared limited to five districts in central Uganda and had not reached the capital or the travel hub Entebbe.

As of Thursday, “no suspected, probable or confirmed EVD cases related to this outbreak have been reported in the United States or other countries outside of Uganda,” the CDC said.

Travellers who have spent any time in Uganda over the previous 21 days, the incubation period for the virus, will be directed to JFK International Airport in New York, Washington-Dulles International Airport, Newark Liberty International Airport in New Jersey, Chicago-O’Hare International Airport and Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport.

The CDC will conduct a “temperature check, risk assessment, visual symptom check and contact information verification” at those airports beginning immediately, and officials expect to have full coverage by the end of the week.

The Biden administration said about 145 people per day enter the US from Uganda, with most arriving at one of the five large airports. Airlines will rebook tickets for those scheduled to fly into a different airport, the administration said.

The Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Uganda will host a ministerial meeting next week about the disease, which has infected 43 people and killed about 10 in Uganda since health authorities announced the outbreak on September 20.

Ebola is a hemorrhagic fever that spreads through bodily fluids. Symptoms include fever, vomiting, diarrhoea, muscle pain, and occasionally internal and external bleeding.

The African CDC said it has procured 20,000 test kits for the region that should arrive early next week and it will ship stockpiles of personal protective equipment next week. The current outbreak has been attributed to the Sudan strain of the Ebola virus, which has no proven vaccine.

The outbreak in Uganda is the latest in the region. In late September, the Democratic Republic of the Congo declared an end to another Ebola outbreak, which began on August 22 and resulted in no deaths.

US authorities said the risk of an Ebola outbreak in the US remains low.

“To date in this outbreak, cases have only been confirmed in Uganda and no suspected, probable or confirmed cases of Ebola have been reported in the United States,” the US embassy in Uganda said.

“Enhanced screening applies to all passengers, including US citizens, lawful permanent residents and visa holders (to include Diplomatic and Official visas).”

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies