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Ebola screening starts at JFK airport

Medical teams have started screening travellers from three West African countries at New York’s JFK airport.

A member of the Hazmat crew carries a barrel down stairs from the apartment where Thomas Eric Duncan the Ebola patient was staying in Dallas, Texas on 3 October 2014. EPA/Larry Smith.

NEW YORK - Medical teams at New York's JFK airport, armed with Ebola questionnaires and temperature guns, began screening travellers from three West African countries on Saturday as U.S. health authorities stepped up efforts to stop the spread of the virus.

John F. Kennedy Airport is the first of five U.S. airports to start enhanced screening of U.S.-bound travellers from Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone. Those countries have seen most of the deaths from the outbreak, which has claimed more than 4,000 lives.

Nearly all passengers traveling to the United States from those countries arrive at JFK, Newark Liberty, Washington Dulles, Chicago O'Hare and Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta. The new procedures will begin at the other four airports on Thursday.

Mohamed Dabo, a 22-year-old Indiana man who arrived at JFK from Guinea after a stopover in Paris, said he was surprised by the intensity of the screening.

"I don't really know what was going on in there but it was kind of crazy," he said. "I sat down there for two hours."

The screenings, which will affect only a tiny fraction of overall passengers arriving at JFK, are being conducted by the Department of Homeland Security's Customs and Border Protection (CBP), under direction of the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

There are no direct flights from the affected countries, so CBP staff identify passengers to screen by looking at trip information and checking passports, R. Gil Kerlikowske, the CBP commissioner, told a news conference at JFK on Saturday morning.

Using infrared temperature guns, staff are checking for elevated temperatures among passengers whose journeys began or included a stop in one of the three African countries.

Screeners will also assess passengers for signs of illness and ask about their health and whether they may have come into contact with an Ebola patient.

Buntouradu Bamgoura, 54, who was born in Guinea and lives in the United States, said she was handed a list of guidelines for screened passengers who were allowed to enter. The sheet offers tips for self-monitoring and instructions for doctors treating patients with Ebola-like symptoms.

For those with a fever or other symptoms or possible exposure to Ebola, the CDC said, authorities may decide to take a person to a hospital or quarantine the patient.

In a sign of how serious U.S. medical authorities view the prevention effort, members of an NBC News crew who worked with a cameraman who contracted Ebola in Liberia were ordered late Friday by New Jersey medical authorities into mandatory quarantine after failing to comply with a voluntary agreement to sequester themselves.

Meanwhile, the condition of the freelance American cameraman continues to improve. At Nebraska Medical Centre, Ashoka Mukpo, 33, has received the experimental drug Brincidofovir and a blood transfusion from Dr. Kent Brantly, who earlier recovered from a bout with Ebola at an Atlanta hospital.