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Officials: Enhanced Ebola screenings begin at Kennedy Airport

An aerial view of John F. Kennedy Airport

An aerial view of John F. Kennedy Airport (JFK) on April 15, 2011 in Jamaica, Queens. Photo Credit: Getty Images / Spencer Platt

Travelers from three West African countries were greeted Saturday at Kennedy Airport by Customs and health officials, who questioned them about Ebola and took their temperatures.

By most accounts, the first day of stepped-up screening to prevent the spread of the deadly virus went smoothly. As of Saturday night, officials didn't report finding anyone with symptoms that would trigger an instant quarantine.

One of the screened passengers, Moussa Halidou of Nigeria, said his temperature was taken. "They checked everything, and everything was fine," he said.

Johnson Nellon, 14, who flew from Liberia with his 17-year-old brother, said they were asked if "we had been sick in the past few days."

The screenings began at 5 a.m., according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

Passengers arriving from Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone -- a region ravaged by Ebola -- were taken to a separate area within the airport set aside for screenings. There, they had passport stamps checked, filled out a questionnaire and were handed literature about signs and symptoms of Ebola.

To detect any fevers, a public health team took each traveler's temperature with an infrared, no-touch thermometer.

"No matter how many of these procedures are put in place, we will never get the risk to zero," Dr. Martin Cetron, director of the Division of Global Migration and Quarantine for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said at a briefing at Kennedy.

"But this additional layer should add a measure of security and assurance to the American public," he said.

Officials described the enhanced screening as part of a layered response that begins with similar efforts in West Africa. In the past two months, 36,000 passengers have been screened in those countries, resulting in 77 people being stopped from boarding a plane, Cetron said.

None of those people had Ebola; rather, they suffered other ailments such as malaria, he said.

Flight attendants and other airline workers are also being asked to be on the lookout for passengers with Ebola symptoms.

Kennedy -- the entry point for nearly half of travelers entering the United States from the three West African countries -- is the first of five airports in the United States to step up screening. Those efforts will be expanded over the next week to Washington Dulles, Newark Liberty, Chicago O'Hare and Hartsfield-Jackson in Atlanta.

Customs officials say about 150 people travel daily from or through the three African countries to the United States, and nearly 95 percent of them land first at one of the five airports.

With AP

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