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Federal health officials will strengthen airport screenings to detect travelers with Ebola

A woman and girl wear protective masks Tuesday,

A woman and girl wear protective masks Tuesday, Oct. 7, 2014, before they enter Hospital Fundacion Alcorcon, where a Spanish nurse tested positive for the Ebola virus, in Alcorcon, Spain near Madrid. Credit: Getty Images / Pablo Blazquez Dominguez

Tougher screening measures at U.S. airports will be announced within the coming days to help keep travelers who may be infected with the Ebola virus from entering the country, a top federal health official said Tuesday.

Dr. Thomas Frieden, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said at a news conference that stepped-up screening plans are being written, but he did not elaborate. The CDC already has quarantine stations at major U.S. airports, which can detain passengers who show signs of illness while aboard flights.

The quarantine station in this area is at Kennedy Airport.

"We're working intensely on a screening process," Frieden said.

As tighter screening measures are being developed at the national level, emergency responders on Long Island are training to recognize highly contagious infections, said Dr. Victor Politi, chief executive of Nassau University Medical Center in East Meadow.

"If you've had any recent travel to Nigeria, Liberia, Sierra Leone or Guinea, we want to know. And we are taking all necessary precautions," Politi said.

Frieden's remarks coincided with a U.S. Coast Guard plan to screen ship passengers arriving at any northeastern state from West African countries.

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Frieden said increasing screening measures requires complex planning. At West African airports, passengers have been routinely scanned for fever for the past several months using a method designed by the CDC.

Screening there involves use of calibrated thermometers that can take travelers' temperatures from a distance. Passengers must also answer a list of health questions, Frieden said.

Over the past three months, 36,000 passengers have been screened in West African airports. Three-fourths, he added, were not traveling to the United States.

About 77 of them had a fever, which means 1 in 500 passengers had a significant symptom that kept them in Africa. The proposed U.S. screening measures would add an additional layer of screening, Frieden said.

Thomas Duncan, the Liberian man who arrived in the United States infected with the virus last month, was able to pass his airport's screeners because he didn't have a fever when he embarked. Duncan had a stopover in Brussels, Texas health officials said.

He is listed in critical condition at a Dallas hospital where he is being treated with an experimental Ebola medication, Dr. David Lakey, health commissioner of Texas said Tuesday.

Stepped-up airport screening in this country and the Coast Guard's plan were applauded Tuesday by Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.). Potential travel-related Ebola has been hotly debated on Capitol Hill for weeks.

"As each day brings additional cases of Ebola and new countries are being forced to confront the epidemic, it makes eminent sense for the CDC to step up their efforts to keep this disease from taking hold in the United States," Schumer said in a statement Tuesday.

Politi, meanwhile, said being alert to patients' symptoms is vital for first responders who are often in the front line of medical care.

"We had two instances here at NUMC where patients had high fevers and flu like symptoms about a month ago. There were concerns this might be Ebola," he said.

Tests came back positive for malaria in both instances, he said.

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