Via The New York Times, a profile of Erica J. Sison, a quarantine officer in the Public Health Commissioned Corps: A Front Line Against Ebola Runs Through Newark’s Terminal B. Excerpt:
Ms. Sison, 36, who has degrees in chemistry and public health and is completing her doctorate in epidemiology at Rutgers, took the post five years ago. She found out about it while working at the Newark city health department, on a measles case with the airport quarantine office.
She trains border protection officers on the disease du jour, so they know when to call her. In the case of Ebola, she has told them that the transmission is not airborne but that they should be alert for symptoms like fever, sweating and vomiting in travelers from West African countries like Sierra Leone, Liberia, Guinea and Nigeria.
Less than 0.5 percent of the 243,000 international travelers to United States airports each day originate from those countries, including an average of 679 from Nigeria and 145 from the other three countries, according to the C.D.C.
The post can be busy even when there is not a major disease scare. Quarantine officers, who are often not physicians, make 2,000 health consultations a year with C.D.C. physicians about sick travelers, Kristen Nordlund, a spokeswoman for the agency, said.
The last big scare was MERS, or Middle Eastern Respiratory Syndrome, first reported in Saudi Arabia in 2012. The first confirmed cases in the United States were in May of this year, in travelers from Saudi Arabia.
At the moment, Ms. Sison said, the C.D.C.’s airport video terminals are flipping every few seconds between the latest exotic diseases: Ebola, MERS, measles and Chikungunya, a virus transmitted by mosquitoes that has been found in countries in Africa, Asia, Europe and the Indian and Pacific Oceans, as well as, for the first time last year, on Caribbean islands.
Usually, sick travelers are glad to see her because they want help, Ms. Sison said. The more combative passengers are the ones who are trying to bring in something that is precious to them but could carry disease, like monkey meat.
Passengers from West African countries are not specifically targeted for Ebola checks, C.D.C. officials said. “We’re not taking these passengers and doing anything differently,” Ms. Nordlund said. Still, the border agents are on high alert.
This week and last week, Ms. Sison was called to her first suspected Ebola cases, two missionaries and a nonprofit worker who had been living in Liberia. They were not symptomatic, but the border agents “just wanted us to talk to them,” perhaps because of where the passengers had been, Ms. Sison said.
The travelers were hyperaware of the risks. “They had to explain to people that they didn’t shake hands or hug,” she said. As it turned out, they were not sick; they were sent on their way, and the all clear was sounded, for now.