October 22, 2014 / 5:38 PM / 3 years ago

RPT-UPDATE 4-U.S. tightens Ebola monitoring for West African visitors

(Repeats Update 4 to restore story link and graphics link for some subscribers)

By Bill Berkrot

NEW YORK, Oct 22 (Reuters) - U.S. health officials unveiled new measures on Wednesday to carry out Ebola monitoring on anyone entering the country from the three nations at the center of a West African epidemic, increasing precautions to stop the spread of the virus.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said that beginning Monday, travelers from Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea 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 21 days, and the information will be shared with local health authorities.

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.

The travelers 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, but stops short of an outright travel ban advocated by some U.S. lawmakers.

The Department of Homeland Security has said that beginning Wednesday travelers from Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea would be funneled to one of five major U.S. airports conducting enhanced screening for the virus.

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 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.

In other developments, Ron Klain, the lawyer appointed by the White House to coordinate 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 accelerate development of an Ebola vaccine and produce millions of doses.

Only 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.

VACCINE DRIVE

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

U.S. drugmaker Johnson & Johnson announced that it aims to produce 1 million doses of its two-step vaccine next year, and said it has 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 U.S. 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.

“The need for a vaccine to protect against Ebola infection is urgent,” said Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. He said the vaccine, called VSV-ZEBOV, was “promising.”

It was developed by researchers at the Public Health Agency of Canada’s National Microbiology Laboratory and has been 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 will leave the Nebraska Medical Center on Wednesday, 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,” 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,” Mukpo added.

Additional reporting by Ben Hirschler in London, Will Dunham and Susan Heavey in Washington, Barbara Goldberg in New York and Julie Steenhuysen in Chicago and David Bailey; Writing by Will Dunham; Editing by Michele Gershberg and Grant McCool

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