Passenger at Newark airport taken to hospital for Ebola evaluation

As the Obama administration announced steps to tighten screening of travelers from Ebola-ravaged West Africa, an airline passenger who landed in Newark on Tuesday afternoon after spending time in Liberia was brought to University Hospital for evaluation for possible symptoms and exposure to the disease.

“During the enhanced screening process for individuals arriving to the United States from Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea, an individual was identified as reporting symptoms or having a potential exposure to Ebola,” a spokeswoman for the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Tuesday night.

The passenger arrived at Newark Liberty International Airport on a flight from Liberia via Brussels at 12:55 p.m.

The Liberian national, who was held briefly in the customs area at Terminal C and separated from other travelers on the flight, was singled out for screening by agents because of his recent travel to Liberia, and he was found to have a fever, NBC 4 New York reported.

The passenger was taken by ambulance to the hospital in Newark for further evaluation. If officials decide they need to test the passenger for Ebola, the results could take some time.

As for the other travelers, “CDC or state/local public health officials will contact other passengers on the aircraft should it be determined that there was any risk to the other passengers of exposure to communicable disease,” Carol Crawford, the CDC spokeswoman, said in a statement.

Fending off demands to ban travel from West Africa, the administration instead said Tuesday that it was strengthening the nation’s defenses by requiring that, starting today, all arrivals from the region pass through one of five U.S. airports, including Newark Liberty, for screening. The move comes after pressure from some members of Congress and the public to impose a travel ban on the three countries at the heart of the Ebola outbreak, which has killed over 4,500 people, mostly in Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone, since it emerged 10 months ago.

There was a flurry of activity Tuesday evening around University Hospital, the designated facility for any passengers flagged by health screeners at the airport. Officials in protective gear were seen entering the building and police were guarding entrances.

The passenger was the first to be taken to the hospital since screening for possible cases of Ebola began at Newark Liberty last Thursday. In early October, before screeners were in place, a man who had traveled in West Africa and vomited on a flight to Newark was taken to the hospital for evaluation. He was found not to have the disease.

The five U.S. airports designated to receive all passengers from the West African countries also include JFK in New York, Washington Dulles, Atlanta and Chicago. They currently account for about 94 percent of air passengers traveling to the United States from the affected countries. About 150 people travel daily from the three countries, according to the CDC.

A combined total of more than 550 travelers from those countries have been screened at the five airports since the enhanced security measures began, according to the Department of Homeland Security. Not one has tested positive for Ebola. As of Monday, just three of those travelers had a fever. And four, all at Washington Dulles, were transported to a hospital because the CDC determined they needed additional screening.

Customs and Border Patrol officers had screened 37 passengers at Newark Liberty as of Monday. None of them had an elevated temperature, but based on answers to a questionnaire, five were questioned by a CDC official at the airport. No one was suspected of Ebola or referred for further testing until the case Tuesday.

As a result of the new directive announced this week, a few affected passengers will have to rebook their flights. There are no direct, non-stop commercial flights from the three countries to the United States.

Homeland Security officials at the airports will use no-touch thermometers to check for fever, which can be a symptom of Ebola infection, officials said.

Three cases of Ebola have been diagnosed in the United States so far, two of them health-care workers who contracted it in Dallas. The two nurses were treating Thomas Eric Duncan, who had traveled to the United States from Liberia and then died of the disease. Nina Pham’s condition has been upgraded from fair to good by doctors who are treating her in Maryland, and Amber Vinson is “doing OK, just trying to get stronger” at Emory University Hospital in Atlanta, according to her mother.

Also Tuesday, the NBC News freelancer diagnosed with Ebola while working in Liberia was declared free of the virus.

“I’m so lucky,” Ashoka Mukpo tweeted. “Wish everyone who got sick could feel this.”

Staff Writers Rebecca D. O’Brien and Lindy Washburn contributed to this article, which contains material from The Associated Press.

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Dan Mullin is an active writer and editor for the Pluto Daily who covered the 2014 Ebola Outbreak. Mullin attended the Wake Forest School of Medicine before leaving to pursue his lifelong science goal of allowing humans to live forever via a computer/brain transfer.