UNION COUNTY — Today as Newark Liberty International Airport began enhanced screening of passengers from West African countries affected by Ebola, the county said they remain vigilant and on a high state of awareness when it comes to this disease that has killed over 4,000 people.
Although the majority of the airport is in Newark, a portion, including terminal A, is located in Elizabeth.
Thermal scanners will be used to take the temperatures of passengers arriving from Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea. Passengers will also be asked a series of questions about any possible exposure to the deadly virus as they enter the United States.
However, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, completely eliminating the danger here is impossible.
“No matter how many procedures are put in place, we can’t get the risk to zero,” said Dr. Martin Cetron, director of the division of global migration and quarantine for the CDC, at a briefing Saturday at JFK International Airport in New York.
Important here is that fewer than 150 people arrive daily in the United States from the three most heavily affected countries, Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea, and half of those arrive at JFK airport.
“The key to minimizing the spread of Ebola is to identify it as quickly as possible and isolate potential cases,” O’Dowd said in a letter requesting hospitals to voluntarily undertake drills that focus on how emergency rooms would handle a suspected case of Ebola.
Although Elizabeth media spokesperson Kelly Vence was contacted to find out what measures the Elizabeth Health Department had in place in case a passenger with symptoms of the disease surfaces in the portion of the airport located in the city, she did not return calls by press time on Tuesday.
Union County Communication Director Sebastian D’Elia said Tuesday the county has been and continues to be “at a high state of awareness.”
“We are a part of the U.S. LINCS Health Network,” D’Elia explained, pointing out that since August the county has been filtering information that they receive in order to keep all 21 municipalities informed about how Ebola is being tracked.
“Everything is being guided by the state health department and CDC,” the communication director said, but noted that county officials are staying informed and “highly vigilant.”
According to the CDC, the world is facing the biggest and most complex outbreak of this virus in history.
Critical, they said, is early recognition and reporting of suspected Ebola virus exposures.
Ebola, previously known as hemorrhagic fever, is a severe, often fatal disease in humans and primates, such as monkeys, gorillas and chimpanzees. This disease can be spread in several ways to others through direct contact with the blood or bodily fluids of an infected person showing symptoms of the disease. Bodily fluids include, but are not limited to, feces, saliva, urine, vomit and semen.
The virus can enter the body through broken skin or unprotected mucous membranes, such as the nose, eyes or mouth, and has an average 21-day incubation period.
The disease is also spread through exposure to objects, such as needles, that have been contaminated with infected secretions.
Of serious concern to the CDC is the fact Ebola spreads quickly within healthcare settings, such as clinics or hospitals.
“Ebola is not spread through the air, food or water,” the CDC said, pointing out, though, that direct, unprotected contact with the dead bodies of those who died of the disease, or with infected bats, rodents or primates does spread the virus.
There is no specific medicine or vaccine that cures individuals infected with Ebola.
“It is important here that people understand that a person infected with Ebola cannot spread the disease until symptoms appear,” the CDC said in a statement over the weekend.
Tuesday New Jersey Commissioner of Health Mary O’Dowd asked the state’s 72 acute care hospitals to hold drills on how to handle cases of Ebola.
“All of our hospitals need to be ready to manage a potential case of an individual that would appear on their doorstep with Ebola,” said O’Dowd, adding that all hospitals needed to understand when they are doing triage to evaluate the travel history of any patient exhibiting symptoms consistent with Ebola.
The move came a day after a nurse in the United States became ill after caring for a patient with Ebola who died over the weekend.