Passengers Checked for Fever at Burma’s Airports Amid Ebola Fears

By Khine Thant Su 6 August 2014

RANGOON — Passengers arriving at Burma’s international airports are being checked for signs they have the deadly Ebola virus, an official said, as authorities around the world attempt to prevent an outbreak of the disease in West Africa from spreading.

Doctors and health administrators were appointed last week to carry out checks, involving infrared thermal scanning, according to Kyaw Kan Kaung, the deputy director of the Center for Infectious Diseases in Burma, which oversees the airport health administration.

Ebola has never been found in Burma, and the Ministry of Health has quashed recent rumors that a boy in Arakan State had contracted the virus.

The virus is most likely to enter the country via the airports, said Kyaw Kan Kaung. Rangoon International Airport is the largest point of access into Burma, with about 20 international airlines flying routes to the city. Checks are also being carried out at Burma’s two other international airports, Mandalay and Naypyidaw, he said.

Since last week, other Southeast Asian countries including Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore and the Philippines have also been screening international travelers for Ebola.

The Ebola virus can be contracted by direct contact with bodily fluids from an infected person. The early symptoms of the disease are similar to the symptoms of a common cold but as the disease progresses, an infected person can experience internal bleeding.

The virus first emerged in 1976 and occurred primarily in remote villages in Central and West Africa. Since the current outbreak began in March 2014, more than 800 people have died from the disease in the West African countries of Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia.

Every passenger arriving at any of Burma’s three international airports now has to go through an infrared thermal imaging scan, which checks their body temperature. “We mainly test whether each passenger has a fever or not,” Kyaw Kan Kaung said.

No traveler suspected of being infected with the Ebola virus has been found yet, he added.

If suspected of being infected, a traveler would be sent to receive appropriate treatment at a designated hospital in Burma. The hospitals include the Rangoon General Hospital, Thingangyun Hospital and the Infectious Diseases Hospital of North Okkalapa in Rangoon. Hospitals in the border cities of Myawaddy and Tamu are also equipped with special prevention methods, according to Kyaw Kan Kaung.

In the past, Burma has taken similar prevention measures against infectious diseases including SARS, H5N1 and H5N9 to prevent them from entering the country.

The preventive screening of travelers is expected to continue as long as the rates of Ebola infection remain high elsewhere in the world. “For now, we are going to carry out these preventive measures nonstop,” said Kyaw Kan Kaung.

The New Light of Myanmar reported on Wednesday that a 6-year-old boy in Arakan State, who was admitted to Sittwe General Hospital on July 24, does not have Ebola, contrary to “[r]umour spread on the internet.” The boy has in fact been diagnosed with Stevens-Johnson Syndrome, a potentially deadly skin disease, the report cited the Ministry of Health saying.