The Center for Disease Control will begin monitor any passengers arriving in the United States for the full Ebola incubation period of 21 days, officials announced on Wednesday.
The news comes on the first day limitations begin for U.S.-bound flights carrying passengers from three Ebola-effected countries. The Department of Homeland Security announced on Tuesday that flights from Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea are restricted to arrival at five U.S. airports enforcing extensive Ebola screenings. Still, the political climate remains tense as lawmakers continue to demand a full travel ban and the public expresses continued anxiety over the possibility of an outbreak on American soil.
The announcement comes amid a flurry of activity around Ebola: on Wednesday, the National Institutes of Health begins human testing on Ebola vaccines and the White House’s Ebola ‘czar’ Ron Klain began work coordinating the government response to the deadliest Ebola outbreak in history.
The CDC’s latest restrictions will be implemented on Monday, and require travelers from the three Ebola hotspots to give email addresses, phone numbers, and addresses, as well as contacts for a friend or relative to ensure the organization can monitor passengers for signs of the disease. Each passengers will be given a care kit, including a tracking log and a thermometer to monitor their temperature.
Meanwhile, Ebola scares across the country have continued.
The latest scare is in New Jersey, where after landing at Newark Liberty Airport from Brussels, a sick passenger was isolated; medical workers at University Hospital are evaluating him “as if he has Ebola” out of extreme caution, NBC News reported early Wednesday.
“All these steps have been taken in an abundance of caution,” Gov. Chris Christie said Wednesday.
Meanwhile, the U.S. is hurrying to prepare itself, particularly in cities with airports where West African passengers can enter the country from. Roughly 100-150 passengers enter from those countries each day.
Four top Chicago hospitals and the city’s Department of Health have launched the Chicago Ebola Resource Network, adding additional screenings to those required by the federal government and preparing local hospitals to handle medical evaluations and potentially, Ebola treatment.
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So far, two passengers travelling from Liberia were brought to local hospitals to undergo evaluation, though they did not present with the fever that’s characteristic to the disease. “[A]t this time there have been no confirmed cases of Ebola and there is no threat to the general public,” the network said in a statement late Tuesday.
Though the disease has continued to ravage West Africa and the World Health Organization estimates it could get far worse before it gets better, there are some glimmers of hope: It’s been a week since the last diagnosis in the U.S., more Ebola vaccine clinical trials are expected to begin in coming weeks, and the Associated Press reported that a top official from the Red Cross said the disease could be fully contained worldwide in 4-6 moths.
Already, more than 550 passengers traveling from West Africa since Oct. 11, when the screening protocols were implemented, have been screened for Ebola. Just three had elevated temperatures; four were transported to a hospital for additional screening after arriving in Dulles International Airport; so far, no confirmed diagnoses of Ebola have resulted from the screenings.
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The first human-testing on one Ebola vaccine, known as VSV-ZEBOV, is being tested at the National Institutes for Health, where Ebola patient Nina Pham is being treated. The Walter Reed Army Institute of Research will also be testing the vaccine in Silver Spring, Maryland. Elsewhere around the world, clinical trials are expected to begin on Ebola vaccines in the coming weeks; the World Health Organization reported on Tuesday that they expect a vaccine to be implemented in West Africa in early 2015.
On Wednesday, the number of Americans cleared from Ebola ‘watch lists’ – those who were potentially exposed but after the maximum incubation period for the virus showed no signs of it – reached 60 and officials have urged their communities to welcome them back in and not ostracize them because of their exposure.
Meanwhile, Ebola patients being treated in the U.S. are improving daily. The NBC News freelance cameraman Ashoka Mukpo was declared virus-free on Tuesday night and will be released on Wednesday morning.
“I feel profoundly blessed to be alive, and in the same breath aware of the global inequalities that allowed me to be flown to an American hospital when so many Liberians die alone with minimal care,” Mukpo said in a statement released Wednesday. “I hope our global community will ramp up its efforts to curtail the epidemic but also to save the lives of the sick.”
In Washington, D.C., the condition of one of the nurses from Dallas Presbyterian Hospital, Nina Pham, was upgraded on Tuesday from ‘fair’ to ‘good’, the National Institute of Health reported. And back in Dallas, Pham’s dog, Bentley, tested negative for the virus. He’ll be monitored for the full 21-day period since his last contact inside her home, but so far the news is positive.