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US to tighten controls on travelers to fight Ebola

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The United States will announce tightened controls on international travelers in the coming days to prevent Ebola from spreading on US soil, health officials said Tuesday.

Since the first case of Ebola in the United States was detected a week ago — a Liberian man in Texas who arrived September 20 without showing symptoms — there have been calls in Congress and elsewhere for stricter controls.

“As the president said yesterday we are looking hard at what we can do to further increase the safety of Americans and in the coming days we will announce further measures that will be taken,” said Tom Frieden, head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

President Barack Obama said Monday that new protocols were under study to boost controls on travelers as they left west Africa and upon arrival in the United States.

Obama said the United States could work with Customs officials and Homeland Security to identify people on connecting flights so as to determine their port of entry in the United States.

Charles Schumer, an influential Democratic Senator, said Tuesday after a conversation with Frieden that Washington would impose measures even tougher than suggested by the president.

Schumer has said passengers arriving from countries where the tropical virus is taking a heavy toll should have their temperature taken upon arriving in American airports.

He pressed Homeland Security to create a database of passengers arriving from west Africa directly or indirectly, to which all American hospitals would have access.

Both Obama and Frieden ruled out a ban on flights to and from affected countries, as called for by some lawmakers.

Frieden said this would worsen the health crisis by reducing the ability to fight the disease, while stressing that half of all airlines had already stopped serving the affected countries.

He also hailed the work of the CDC in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea, the three west African states hardest hit by the worst outbreak of Ebola on record, which has killed more than 3,300 people since the start of the year.

The CDC has trained staffers at west African airports to take travellers temperature before they fly out and have them fill out a questionnaire, he said.

Over the past two months some 36,000 people have undergone such tests, with only a small proportion headed for the United States, Frieden said.

Of these 36,000, only 77 had a fever or other suspicious symptoms, said Frieden and none of those turned out to have Ebola.

He also said that in Dallas none of the 48 people who had direct or indirect contact with the Ebola-infected man — 10 had close contact, inlcuding three relatives and seven health care workers — were showing symptoms.

They will remain under daily observation.

The incubation period for the disease is two to 21 days.

The state of the infected man in Texas, Thomas Eric Duncan, has improved slightly but he remains in critical condition, hospital officials said. Since Saturday he has been undergoing an experimental treatment. SAPA

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