Five passengers with “flu-like symptoms” were removed from a flight by emergency crews in hazmat suits after it touched down in Boston on Monday, but U.S. health authorities said that the possibility of Ebola was “exceedingly low”.
Passengers on Emirates flight 237 from Dubai were told to remain on board as ambulances surrounded the aircraft and emergency responders removed the ill individuals to be examined at nearby hospitals.
Although none of the five had recently been to West Africa, which is struggling with a deadly outbreak of the virus that has killed more than 4,000 people, the alarm was signalled “out of an abundance of caution.”
A spokesperson for the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said there was no evidence that the passengers had had recent contact with anyone from countries at the centre of the Ebola outbreak, which include Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea.
“Given this, the chance that the passengers could have Ebola is thought to be exceedingly low”, CDC spokeswoman Shelly Diaz said.
One passenger told local news channel WCVB Boston that seeing the crews in hazmat suits looked like it was “something out of a movie.”
See the Ebola outbreak mapped
See the Ebola outbreak mapped
1/7 25 March 2014
This outbreak of the Ebola virus first emerged in the Guéckédou region of Guinea, at a crossroads with both Liberia and Sierra Leone
2/7 31 March
On 31 March the WHO confirmed the outbreak was now international, spreading first into Liberia's northern-most Lofa region
3/7 27 May
The virus spread to Sierra Leone at the end of May - just as agencies were hoping the worst was over
4/7 27 July
In Sierra Leone the virus boomed, and then it spread to Nigeria when the Liberian diplomat Patrick Sawyer flew from Monrovia to Lagos
5/7 9 August
The Nigeria cases sparked fears around the world, and there have now been deaths in Spain and Saudi Arabia involving people who had travelled to West Africa. The numbers of cases continue to rise
6/7 17-20 September
In mid-September, Senegal confirmed its first case linked to the Ebola outbreak, a development the WHO described as a top priority emergency. Numbers of cases continued to grow exponentially in Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia, as experts warned they could number one million by January if not contained
7/7 8 October
Two cases of Ebola have now been reported in the US and Europe - the first times the virus has been contracted among health workers outside Africa
“We landed and they pretty much told us that we were going to have to wait on the plane for a while,” said Tracy Barahona.
“It’s not something you’re expecting.” Passenger Hanan Bahnassi told the channel that he was sitting on front of three of the sick passengers.
“We were travelling and I could hear him coughing and coughing. He was coughing all the time and I didn’t know that he was sick,” he said.
A spokesman for the Emirates said the airline was cooperating with the authorities in Boston, and added that “the safety of our passengers and crew is always of paramount importance.”
The U.S. has been on high alert since a Texan nurse contracted Ebola while caring for Liberian national Thomas Duncan, who succumbed to the virus earlier this month.
The incident comes after a series of recent false alarms at airports liked to concerns about the potential spread of the deadly Ebola virus. However, enhanced screening for Ebola is being rolled in to place at Heathrow’s Terminal 1 after Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt revealed the virus is expected to reach the UK.
Checks will be expanded to cover Gatwick Airport and Eurostar train terminals by the end of next week.
Additional reporting by Reuters and Press AssociationReuse content