New York on alert for Ebola threat after US fatality

Workers at New York's LaGuardia airport participate in a class on October 9, 2014 in New York City on how to better protect themselves from infectious diseases (AFP Photo/Spencer Platt)

New York (AFP) - New York is on alert against the deadly Ebola virus, rolling out tough new airport screening measures and introducing strict rules at hospitals while simultaneously warning the public there is no cause for panic.

The first death from Ebola on US soil in Texas on Wednesday sent concern rippling through major cities, which are now ramping up efforts to prevent an American outbreak of the disease that has claimed 3,900 lives in West Africa.

New York's John F. Kennedy International will become the first airport in the United States to start new screening measures on Saturday, aimed at halting the disease in its tracks should more cases emerge.

Travelers from Ebola-affected nations of Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone will be screened by border agents checking for signs of illness such as high temperatures, even if they've already been checked upon departure.

The number of travelers likely to fall within the scope of screening measures at JFK is small, estimated at only a few dozen a day at an airport which saw 50.4 million people pass through it last year.

Similar controls will be introduced next week at Newark, the other major international airport serving the New York area, and airports in Washington, Atlanta and Chicago.

Mayor Bill de Blasio chaired an "Ebola preparedness" meeting of city agencies on Thursday, comprising representatives from emergency services, hospitals and coroners to run through possible scenarios.

"There has not been a case in New York City," de Blasio said. "There is no cause for alarm."

If any individual did display symptoms of the disease, de Blasio said, authorities in the biggest city in the US have "a clear protocol for how to handle the situation."

"The city is particularly well prepared for any possible instance of Ebola because of our extraordinary health care system," de Blasio said.

"Physicians, hospitals, emergency medical personnel are trained in how to identify this disease and how to quickly isolate anyone who may be afflicted."

- 'We believe we are set' -

New York City Hall's website now offers information and advice on Ebola to New Yorkers as well as to universities, schools, nurseries and health professionals.

Manhattan's Bellevue Hospital has been designated as a facility to treat patients.

Officials say the hospital, which is equipped with isolation wards and protective clothing for workers, is ready to deal with cases if required.

"We are doing as well as we possibly can and we believe we are set," said Ross Wilson, a spokesman for the Health and Hospitals Corporation, which oversees New York hospitals.

To test the readiness of 11 public hospitals around New York, bogus "patients" complaining of Ebola symptoms such as fever fanned out across the city to see if staff were dealing with potential cases properly.

Switchboard operators for 911 emergency calls had also been trained to ask questions aimed at identifying potential Ebola cases.

It follows an outcry after Texas patient Thomas Eric Duncan, who died on Wednesday, was initially sent home from hospital after complaining of Ebola-like symptoms.

Wilson said the exercises and simulations under way for the past three weeks should reduce the chances of a similar error occurring in New York.

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