NEWS

Thermal Screening for Flu Symptoms

Sherry Harowitz

In an effort to contain the spread of the new swine flu, the U.S. is doing "passive" surveillance at airports and other entry points.

"That means that they're looking for people ... and asking about, are you sick, have you been sick, and the like; and if so, then they can be referred over for further examination," said Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano at a press conference. Other countries are taking a high-tech approach, reports the Globe and Mail, using thermal cameras to scan passengers for signs of fever.

"Singapore, Thailand, Japan, Indonesia, South Korea and the Philippines dusted off thermal scanners used during the 2003 SARS crisis and were checking for signs of fever among passengers arriving at airports from North America," writes Ray Lilley of the Associated Press in an article appearing in the Globe and Mail.

Speaking on The News Hour, Secretary Napolitano noted that 19 of the airports in the United States have quarantine facilities; those airports account for 85 percent of travel.

During the DHS press conference, Napolitano also discussed the stockpile of antivirals, stating "[W]e have 50 million treatment courses of antiviral drugs — Tamiflu and Relenza — in the strategic national stockpile. We are releasing 25 percent of those courses, making them available to all of the states, but particularly prioritizing the states where we already have confirmed incidents of the flu. In addition, the Department of Defense has procured and strategically prepositioned 7 million treatment courses of Tamiflu."

To be effective, antivirals must be taken within about 48 hours of symptoms. They aren't recommended as a preventive measure.

It has been reported that the virus is believed to have originated in a pig farm in Veracruz in early April when a 4-year -old boy became the first person known to be infected.

The World Health Organization has raised this to a phase 4 alert for a pandemic, on a scale of 1 to 6. That means they believe containment is no longer feasible.

President Obama has said this is cause to be in a state of alert but not a state of alarm.

Five countries have announced a halt on the import of port products from the United States, despite the fact that there is no evidence the swine flu incidents in the United States have originated with pigs in the United States.

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