The World Health Organization is strongly urging countries affected by the outbreak of Ebola in West Africa– Liberia, Sierra Leone, Guinea, and Nigeria– to screen individuals leaving the country for the virus at airports, seaports, and border crossings.
The warning, Reuters reports, follows an announcement from the organization that the threat of the Ebola virus spreading outside of its current territory, and the number of individuals potentially carrying the virus, has been “vastly underestimated.”
The WHO released a statement emphasizing that keeping those at risk for Ebola out of areas where the virus has yet to be seen is a key element of containing the outbreak:
“Affected countries are requested to conduct exit screening of all persons at international airports, seaports and major land crossings, for unexplained febrile illness consistent with potential Ebola infection. Any person with an illness consistent with EVD (Ebola Virus Disease) should not be allowed to travel unless the travel is part of an appropriate medical evacuation.”
The group did not recommend any such screenings outside of affected areas, however.
The affected countries have each begun to impose a variety of quarantine regulations within the countries themselves to prevent the spread to more urban areas. In Sierra Leone, the government has begun using the “cordon sanitaire” method of isolation on particularly hard-hit villages. The method requires a closing off of the affected area and a small exit through which the government can provide food towards the inside, but no one can enter or exit. Liberia, meanwhile, has locked down its capital, Monrovia, hoping to keep Ebola victims out of the metropolis. It has also quarantined three provinces particularly widely affected by Ebola. The countries have also closed their borders from each other, hoping to contain the threat.
While the borders have been closed, many of the most high-profile concerns about the spread of Ebola are centered around airports, not borders. Nigeria, which has been significantly less damaged by Ebola than the other three countries, became an infected nation through the arrival of a Liberian official, Patrick Sawyer, who died in the airport at Lagos with Ebola symptoms; all those who now have the disease or have died from it in Nigeria had contact with Sawyer.
Since Sawyer’s death, new concerns have arisen across the globe. A woman died this morning in the United Arab Emirates while waiting for a connecting flight to India with what medical observers are saying were symptoms matching an Ebola contamination. She was flying to India from Nigeria. In the UK, a woman collapsed and died in London’s Gatwick Airport upon arriving from Gambia, triggering Ebola concerns.