Questions over airport screening

24 February 2015 09:33

Airport authorities are trying to stop Ebola's spread

Airport authorities are trying to stop Ebola's spread

Most infected travellers pass through airport screening undetected, according to a new report.

This is largely being blamed on dishonest passengers who do not reveal their true exposure to illnesses, in order to avoid airport hold-ups, the research found.

A quarter of passengers, at most, with an illness actually admitted to being exposed to flu in the huge swine flu outbreak of 2009. Some travellers may have taken medication to mask the symptoms, the study showed.

Fever-testing may be especially ineffectual in illnesses with longer-lasting incubation time spans, including Marburg and Ebola, the experts warned.

Swine flu is easier to fever-test since this has shorter time spans in which to incubate.

Whatever illness holidaymakers know they have, they can fly out with more peace of mind by taking out pre-existing medical travel insurance.

Six virus tests reviewed

Researchers from London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and the University of California, Los Angeles undertook the report.

They looked into the screening of six viruses and drew attention to what is required to improve the processes.

As well as Ebola, the screened viruses were:

- avian flu (Influenza H7N9)

- swine flu (Influenza H1N1)

- Marburg virus

- MERS-CoV (Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus)

- SARS

So what can be done?

The scientists behind the study called on the authorities to devise new methods of self-reporting.

They said that "honest reporting" not only betters the chances of airport detection, but it can also help the authorities follow-up on passengers with exposure but without the symptoms at that stage.

Investment would be better focused towards on-arrival screening, the researchers claimed.

They said this would not wipe out the number of cases, but it would certainly reduce them.

The scientists explained that some diseases' symptoms are more simple to pinpoint on arrival because some of them will grow during the flight.

Early-stage disease detection is best achieved through questionnaires, especially when travellers are displaying no symptoms, they said.

The study will be reported on in the eLife journal.

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