Airport screening misses more than half of infected travelers, study says

Airline passengers are often not honest about their exposure to diseases

Scary news if you are flying any time soon: Airport screening procedures to stop the spread of infectious diseases miss half to three-quarters of infected travelers who make it to their destinations, according to a new university study.

The study, authored by UCLA researchers and published last month in the peer-reviewed scientific journal Elife, comes shortly after a measles outbreak and an ebola scare put more Americans on high alert about the spread of infectious diseases.

One key reason that the detection rate is so low, the study suggests, is that many travelers are not honest about their exposure to diseases. In most cases, health authorities rely on questionnaires to try to detect infected travelers. During the ebola scare, infrared thermometers were also deployed to identify passengers with fevers arriving from select African countries.

“Increasing honest exposure reporting not only has the potential to enhance detection of infected travellers, but is essential for implementation of follow-up monitoring of travellers who may have been exposed but have not yet developed symptoms,” according to the report.

The study analyzed airport screenings for six viruses including SARS, ebola and H1N1, the so-called swine flu virus.

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