Should Airports Scan For Diseases Too?

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You’re Picking Up More Than Luggage From an Airport Terminal.It can be one of the most annoying things in the world: sitting in an overcrowded airport, listening to one or two people hack and sniffle. You can practically feel the germs crawling on you.

The last thing you need before getting on an airplane is added anxiety, and these sick folks really don’t help. When this happens to me, a scene from the recent Hollywood blockbuster Contagion comes to mind, when the actors hope sick people aren’t sitting near them on the flight. Why don’t airports screen for diseases?

After all, it makes sense for airports to screen people for disease. Planes can be the gateway for disease pandemics to make their way across the globe quickly.

Would screening for diseases at an airport make a difference? A recent study out of Toronto says the idea isn’t as effective as one might think. Researchers show screening passengers both before departure and upon arrival can cause problems.

Many diseases have an “incubation period.” This is the time between when a person becomes infected with a virus and when they begin showing symptoms. If the virus is still in the early stages of development when a person gets on a plane, it will go unrecognized if screened.

PLUS: An easy way to prevent the spread of diseases

Additionally, if a disease pandemic is underway in a particular region, the local governments might not have the resources to set up screening facilities in airports. They will be concerned with saving their own people as opposed to making sure the disease doesn’t spread to other countries.

This report comes on the heels of a potential pandemic in China, the world’s most populous country and major transportation hub. A new bird flu, H7N9, has infected 33 people and killed nine to date. So far, it has not been diagnosed outside China and, as far as we know, is contained.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) investigates new contagious diseases annually. They rarely gain any traction and in most cases are contained and dealt with in a timely and effective manner. They happen everywhere, from hospitals, to small American towns, and to the biggest cities in the world. There is, however, a global network of healthcare professionals, scientists, and researchers to ensure these outbreaks don’t get out of hand. And usually they are successful.

So what can you do about the coughing, sniffling person on the plane? Be proactive. Make sure you’re up to date with all your shots, including your flu shot. Every year, influenza viruses transform and scientists tailor flu vaccinations to combat the strains they think will be the most common and harmful. Getting a flu shot is especially important if you’re a senior, so contact your doctor if you need one.

Pandemics can happen in the U.S. too, but if you’re travelling internationally, do your due diligence. Research any health concerns about the country you’re traveling to and make sure you take the proper precautions to prevent catching a disease.

Source(s) for Today’s Article:
Branswell, H., “Airport disease screening rarely worthwhile, Toronto study says,” The Toronto Star web site, Wednesday, April 10, 2013;, last accessed April 18, 2013.
“How CDC saves lives by controlling REAL global disease outbreaks,” CDC Foundation web site;, last accessed April 18, 2013.