Nigeria starts airport Ebola screening

by Reuters
Thursday, 31 July 2014 19:05 GMT

* Airline that brought Ebola barred from flying to Nigeria

* Fears of outbreak in Africa's biggest metropolis

* Airports to screen passengers for signs of fever (Adds Health Ministry quarantines some people, details)

By Tim Cocks

LAGOS, July 31 (Reuters) - Nigeria's civil aviation authority (NCAA) said on Thursday it had started temperature screening passengers arriving from places at risk from Ebola and had suspended pan-African airline Asky for bringing the first case to Lagos.

Ebola has killed 729 people in Liberia, Guinea, Sierra Leone and Nigeria, according to the World Health Organization. One died in Lagos, a city of 21 million people with some of Africa's worst sanitation and healthcare.

"Screening and monitoring is being done at all major international airports. It entails checking passengers' temperatures with a hand-held machine," NCAA spokesman Sam Adurogboye said. The screening would happen for any flights passing through Liberia, Guinea or Sierra Leone.

A compulsory blood test would follow if the passenger's temperature gave cause for concern, he said.

Patrick Sawyer, a consultant for Liberia's Finance Ministry in his 40s, collapsed on arrival at Lagos airport on July 20. He was put in isolation at the First Consultants Hospital in Obalende, one of the most crowded parts of the city, but died early on July 25.

Health Minister Onyebuchi Chukwu told a news conference in the capital Abuja on Thursday that 69 people who were in contact with Sawyer remained under close surveillance and two of them had been quarantined because of very close contact.

In addition "the staff or persons who took care of him before the diagnosis who may not have exercised all the necessary care are also presently under quarantine," he said, adding that they would remain so for three weeks.

"One case has been reported in Nigeria. No fresh case has been reported," Chukwu said.

The government has yet to make contact with all passengers that were on his flight, however.

"We have suspended Asky until they are able to show us what measures they have put in place for passengers to ensure they do not bring Ebola," Adurogboye said.

Asky was not immediately available for comment. The airline said in a statement on Tuesday that it had stopped flights to Liberia and Sierra Leone, but did mention Nigeria.

Adurogboye said Nigeria's largest Airline Arik Air was being told to maintain its self-imposed suspension of all flights to Liberia and Sierra Leone for the time being.

International airlines association IATA said the WHO was not recommending any travel restrictions or border closures due to the outbreak, and said there would be a low risk to other passengers if an Ebola patient flew.

The latest outbreak of the hemorrhagic fever began in the forests of remote eastern Guinea in February. It starts with headaches and fever, and final stage symptoms include external and internal bleeding, vomiting and diarrhoea.

Sierra Leone declared a state of emergency and called in troops to quarantine Ebola centres on Thursday. (Additional reporting by Camillus Eboh in Abuja; Editing by Robin Pomeroy)

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