With the rate of Ebola infection rising in Mali, travelers returning from the West African nation will be included in enhanced medical screenings upon arrival to the U.S. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued the alert shortly after French officials made the same decision on Saturday.
According to the CDC, the World Health Organization (WHO) reported an Ebola cluster in Bamako, Mali, on November 12, 2014 . While infection patterns currently appear to remain limited to that area, concern about the spread of the disease remains as not all contacts with the cluster are accounted for by health officials. WHO classifies the Mali cluster as part of the outbreaks currently active in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea. There has been one death in Mali unrelated to the Bamako cluster.
The source of the Mali Ebola infection is possibly a Muslim religious leader who traveled to Mali from Guinea in late October. Although he was never tested for Ebola after becoming ill, confirmed deaths from Ebola were linked back to him. One victim included a woman who washed his remains after he died, and the other was a nurse who treated him. There is an estimated 400 contacts surrounding his infection and health officials are attempting to track them down.
Officials at CDC and Homeland Security indicate Mali cases are isolated but rising, leading to the decision to monitor the cases. Confirmed deaths and infections from Ebola in the U.S. do not have connections to Mali. Thomas Duncan, who died from the virus, was a Liberian national and another patient contracted it while in Sierra Leone. That patient, a surgeon, passed away after being airlifted to a hospital in Nebraska.
Enhanced screenings will begin today and are expected to include about 15 to 20 Mali travelers expected to land in the U.S. All of them will undergo start health assessments requesting information specific to Ebola. Once the assessments are done, each traveler enters a 21-day monitoring and movement tracking program along with twice daily check-ins to monitor symptoms and body temperature.
Travelers from West Africa are currently routed to five specific airports, Washington’s Dulles, New York’s John F. Kennedy, Chicago’s O’Hare, Liberty International Airport in Newark, New Jersey, and Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson, in order to make the screenings more manageable. The number of people arriving from Mali in a given day does not normally exceed 20 and efforts are being coordinated with airlines and airports by CDC and Homeland Security.
As of this time, government and international agencies report a known total of 5,165 Ebola deaths and 14,383 active infections. Travelers to Mali are advised to practice good hygiene, avoid contact with bodily fluids, and never handle dead bodies, among other precautions. They are also put on notice to expect the medical screenings once they return to the U.S.
Mali is the sixth country with confirmed Ebola virus infections making its inclusion for traveler screening a prudent public health safety measure. The CDC and Homeland Security already implemented enhanced Ebola screenings for travelers returning from Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea.
By Jocelyn Mackie
Photo by Jennifer Brooks – Flickr License