Fresh constraints for West African visitors to the US, in a bid to contain Ebola epidemic

US Coast Guard Health Technician Nathan Wallenmeyer (left) and Customs Border Protection (CBP) Supervisor Sam Ko conduct prescreening measures on a passenger arriving from Sierra Leone at O’Hare International Airport's Terminal 5 in Chicago on Oct
US Coast Guard Health Technician Nathan Wallenmeyer (left) and Customs Border Protection (CBP) Supervisor Sam Ko conduct prescreening measures on a passenger arriving from Sierra Leone at O’Hare International Airport's Terminal 5 in Chicago on Oct 16, 2014. -- PHOTO: REUTERS

NEW YORK (Reuters) - U.S. health officials imposed fresh constraints on Wednesday on people entering the country from three countries at the center of West Africa's Ebola epidemic, mandating that they report their temperature daily and stay in touch with health authorities.

The move announced by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) marked the latest precautions put in place by the US government to stop the spread of the virus, but stopped short of a ban on travelers from Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea as demanded by some lawmakers.

The CDC said that, beginning on Monday, travelers from those countries will be directed to check in with health officials every day and report their temperatures and any Ebola symptoms for 21 days, the period of incubation for the virus.

The travelers will be required to provide emails, phone numbers and addresses for themselves and for a friend or relative in the United States covering the 21 days, and the information will be shared with local health authorities.

The travelers also will be required to coordinate with local public health officials if they intend to travel within the United States.

If a traveler does not report in, local health officials will take immediate steps to find the person.

CDC Director Dr. Tom Frieden told reporters the active monitoring program will remain in place until the outbreak in West Africa is over.

The U.N. World Health Organization's latest figures on Wednesday showed at least 4,877 people out of 9,936 cases have died in the outbreak, the worst on record.

"These new measures I'm announcing today will give additional levels of safety so that people who develop symptoms of Ebola are isolated early in the course of their illness,"Frieden said. "That will reduce the chance that Ebola will spread from an ill person through close contact and to healthcare workers." The move builds upon enhanced screening of passengers from the three countries at major U.S. airports for international travel.

Beginning Wednesday, travelers from Liberia, Sierra Leone or Guinea were being funneled through one of five major U.S. airports conducting increased screening for the virus.

There are no direct commercial flights to the United States from those countries, but officials say about 150 travelers a day arrive in the United States on trips that originated there.

Six states account for nearly 70 percent of all travelers entering the United States from the affected countries: New York, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, New Jersey and Georgia.

Officials said the new monitoring will begin in those states first and will be expanded to other states.

The CDC said the active monitoring program affects anyone coming back from the region, including CDC employees and journalists.

The agency said all affected travelers when they enter one of the five airports will receive a care kit that contains a tracking log, a pictorial description of symptoms, a thermometer, instructions on how to monitor their temperature and information on what to do if they experience symptoms.

Three Ebola cases have been diagnosed in the United States: Thomas Eric Duncan, a Liberian who fell ill after flying to the United States in September, and two nurses who treated him at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital in Dallas. Duncan died on Oct. 8, while the two nurses are being treated at other hospitals.

In other developments, Mr Ron Klain, the lawyer appointed by the White House to coordinate the country's response to the outbreak got to work on Wednesday.

President Barack Obama was due to meet with Klain later in the day.

Leading drugmakers also gave details of a plan to work together to accelerate the development of an Ebola vaccine, with the aim of producing millions of doses for use next year.

The World Health Organization said it hopes tens of thousands of people in Africa, including front-line healthcare workers, can start receiving vaccines beginning in January.

US company Johnson & Johnson said it aims to produce at least 1 million doses of its two-step vaccine next year and has already discussed collaboration with Britain's GlaxoSmithKline, which is working on a rival vaccine.

Human testing of a second "investigational" Ebola vaccine is under way at the US National Institutes of Health's Clinical Center in Maryland, the NIH said on Wednesday.

Testing on a first possible vaccine began last month, and initial data was expected by the end of the year.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the NIH's National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said the need for a vaccine against Ebola is urgent and this vaccine, called VSV-ZEBOV, is promising.

It was developed at the Public Health Agency of Canada's National Microbiology Laboratory and licensed to NewLink Genetics Corp through its wholly owned subsidiary BioProtection Systems, both based in Ames, Iowa, the NIH said.

NBC freelance cameraman Ashoka Mukpo, an American who contracted Ebola while working in West Africa, is free of the virus and was discharged on Wednesday from a special unit at Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha, the hospital said.

"After enduring weeks where it was unclear whether I would survive, I'm walking out of the hospital on my own power, free from Ebola," Mr Mukpo said in a statement. "I feel profoundly blessed to be alive, and in the same breath aware of the global inequalities that allowed me to be flown to an American hospital when so many Liberians die alone with minimal care," Mr Mukpo added.

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