Federal officials and airlines are discussing whether U.S. airports should implement new Ebola screenings to identify people who might have the deadly disease, but the White House on Monday said a ban on travel from West African countries would slow the fight against the deadly 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 the hardest-hit countries in West Africa, Earnest said.
The Airlines for America trade group separately said it would meet health and safety officials on Monday to discuss whether additional screening procedures anywhere in the world might help improve on those 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 also are scanned for fever.
Authorities in the United States 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 epidemic of the disease on record could spread from West Africa.
Liberian traveler Thomas Eric Duncan - who flew to the United States via Brussels and Washington from Liberia after helping a woman who later died of Ebola - is fighting for his life in a Dallas hospital. The Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital initially sent him away with antibiotics, only to have him return two days later in an ambulance.
Health officials said none of the 10 people who were being monitored after having had direct contact with Duncan are so far showing signs of Ebola symptoms. Ebola, which can cause fever, vomiting and diarrhea, spreads through contact with bodily fluids such as blood or saliva.
“The concern right now is that the stress of this and the fear of this could be more damaging to this community than the virus itself," Dr. David Lakey, commissioner of the Texas Department of State Health Services, told reporters.
The hospital said Monday that Duncan remained in critical condition "and is now receiving an investigational medication, brincidofovir, for Ebola Virus Disease."
Brincidofovir was developed by Chimerix Inc, which said it has been tested in more than 1,000 patients without raising safety concerns. "Chimerix has brincidofovir tablets available for immediate use in clinical trials," the company said in a statement.
Authorities say they are confident the disease can be contained in the United States, while steps are being taken to ramp up the response to Ebola at its source in West Africa.
Concern about the virus is also high in Europe, where the first case of Ebola being contracted outside of West Africa was reported on Monday. Spanish health officials said a Spanish nurse who treated a priest repatriated to Madrid with Ebola last month, and who died of the disease, had also been infected.
Several health experts and lawmakers have asked the administration to consider enhancing U.S. airport and customs screenings, including checking travelers using handheld fever scanners.
Texas Governor Rick Perry, announcing the formation of a state task force on infectious diseases Monday, said that there were "mistakes" with handling the Ebola diagnosis in Dallas, but defended the state’s overall public health management.
"I stand by the fact that the process is working," Perry said. "We don’t have an outbreak. We have one event that is being handled properly.”
Perry also called for enhanced screening procedures by Customs and Border Patrol agents, including "obtaining more information about people who are coming from affected areas and taking appropriate steps upon arrival."
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 one case in the United States.
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, 33, a freelance cameraman for NBC News, landed in Omaha from Liberia and was taken to the Nebraska Medical Center.