Israel boosts efforts to track down tourists from Ebola-affected areas

Efforts will increase to locate people entering Israel from Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone.

A UN convoy of soldiers passes a screen displaying a message on Ebola on a street in Abidjan. (photo credit: REUTERS)
A UN convoy of soldiers passes a screen displaying a message on Ebola on a street in Abidjan.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Amid increased global concern about the Ebola virus, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu convened an interministerial meeting on the issue in his Jerusalem office on Monday where it was decided to increase efforts to locate people entering Israel from three African countries hit hard by the disease: Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone.
The Foreign Ministry and the Health Ministry have warned about the health risks involved in traveling to those countries and advised them to avoid travel there.
Health Minister Yael German, Transportation Minister Israel Katz, Deputy Interior Minister Faina Kirschenbaum and representatives from the Foreign Ministry, the Israel Police and the Airports Authority took part in the meeting aimed to discuss Israel’s preparedness in dealing with the virus.
Foreign Ministry Director- General Nissim Ben-Shetrit briefed the meeting on Israel’s recent decision to send three mobile emergency clinics to the region hit by the epidemic to help fight its spread.
Meanwhile, US federal officials and airlines are discussing whether airports should screen passengers to identify people who might have Ebola, but the White House on Monday said a ban on travel from West African countries would slow the fight against the virus.
“What we’re looking to do is review these screening measures,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters at a daily briefing.
But officials did not want to impede transport systems used to send supplies and personnel to West Africa to fight Ebola, he said.
Airlines for America, a trade group for the airline industry, separately said it would meet health and safety officials later Monday to discuss whether additional screenings could improve on measures already in place.
People leaving Ebola-affected countries are asked to fill out a questionnaire on whether they have symptoms such as a high fever and whether or not they have had any contact with someone who was diagnosed with Ebola.
In Liberia, at least, they are scanned for fever.
US authorities and the public are on alert following the first diagnosis of Ebola in the country just over a week ago, raising concerns that the worst Ebola epidemic on record could spread from West Africa.
Liberian traveler Thomas Eric Duncan is fighting for his life in a Dallas hospital, which initially sent him away with antibiotics, only to have him return two days later in an ambulance.
Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital said in a statement that Duncan remains in critical condition “and is now receiving an investigational medication, brincidofovir, for Ebola Virus Disease.”
Brincidofovir was developed by Chimerix Inc.
American authorities say they are confident the disease can be contained in the country, while steps are being taken to ramp up the response to Ebola at its source in West Africa.
The head of the Texas team, Dr. Brett Giroir, said: “We live in an interconnected world, where an outbreak anywhere is a risk everywhere.”
Dr. Thomas Frieden, director of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said health officials were closely monitoring 10 people who had direct contact with Duncan and are considered at greatest risk. Frieden said so far none has shown any symptoms.
Meanwhile, the fifth American to contract Ebola in West Africa arrived in the United States for treatment on Monday.
A private plane carrying Ashoka Mukpo, a freelance cameraman for NBC News who contracted Ebola in Liberia, landed in Omaha and was taken to the Nebraska Medical Center.
The plane was met by an ambulance staffed by workers in yellow protective suits, NBC video showed.
Mukpo, 33, will be treated in a biocontainment center that was commissioned in 2005 to provide the first line of treatment for biological attacks and extremely infectious diseases.
Mukpo was raised in Colorado by the late Tibetan Buddhist leader Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche; his mother was one of his several wives.
His biological father, Mitchell Levy, one of Trungpa’s followers, is Jewish, the Associated Press reported. Mukpo’s mother and Levy married after Trungpa’s death.
Levy told the AP that his son was filming inside and around clinics and high-risk areas in Liberia but didn’t know how he became infected.
Mukpo returned to the West African nation in August to cover the epidemic.
As an infant, Mukpo was identified as a reincarnated Tibetan lama, a role he did not embrace though he is still a practicing Buddhist.
Ebola, which can cause fever, vomiting and diarrhea, spreads through contact with bodily fluids such as blood or saliva.
The death toll from the disease is rising in three impoverished West African countries, Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea. The current Ebola outbreak has killed at least 3,439 people since it began in March, out of nearly 7,500 confirmed, probable and suspected cases.
In addition to those three countries, the tally includes Nigeria and Senegal, where Ebola is believed to have been contained, and the one case in the United States.
JTA contributed to this report.