Twilette Miller, a nurse arriving from Dayton, Ohio, wears a precautionary surgical mask at Dulles International Airport on Oct. 16 because of concerns about Ebola. (Paul J. Richards/AFP/Getty Images)

The debate over whether the Obama administration should ban flights from Ebola-stricken nations has been raging for weeks, fueled by fears of an outbreak in the United States and a lot of election-inspired finger pointing.

The Department of Homeland Security last week imposed new travel restrictions for anyone arriving from Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea, requiring those passengers to come through one of five major U.S. airports in Atlanta, Chicago, New Jersey, New York and Virginia.

Those travelers now have to submit to temperature checks and questioning. But scientific studies published by the National Institutes of Health have shown that similar protocols were largely ineffective during an outbreak of Swine Flu in 2009, as Government Executive pointed out in an article last week.

A study of screenings at Australia’s Sydney Airport during the Swine Flu pandemic found that fever was detected in 5,845 passengers during the roughly two-month period covered by the analysis. Only three of those individuals ended up having the virus, which is known in the scientific community as H1N1.

Researchers determined that 45 patients who acquired the illness overseas would have “probably passed through the airport” during the roughly two-month period covered in the study. That means the screeners likely missed the vast majority of individuals who arrived at the facility with Swine Flu, despite grabbing thousands of travelers who showed signs of fever.


The Department of Homeland Security requires temperature checks of air passengers arriving from Ebola-ravaged nations, but studies have determined that the method is largely ineffective at detecting individuals who are infected. (REUTERS/U.S. Customs and Border Protection/Josh Denmark)

The report said only 0.5 percent of H1N1 cases in New South Wales, Australia, were detected at the airport, whereas 76 percent were identified in emergency rooms and at general-practice medical centers.

Ultimately, researchers concluded that airport temperature checks were “ineffective in detecting cases of [Swine Flu].” Similarly, a study of fever screening in Japan during the pandemic determined that “reliance on fever alone is unlikely to be feasible as an entry screening measure.”

Indeed, temperature checks didn’t work for Liberian Thomas Eric Duncan, who died from Ebola this month after arriving in Dallas. Duncan did not have a fever when he landed in Texas on Sept. 28, and he said he had not been in contact with Ebola patients in his native country, although that later proved to be a false statement.

The Australian study concluded that officials should consider “more effective interventions, such as contact tracing in the community.” The findings are in line with what federal officials have said: That the best way to prevent Ebola from spreading is to identify everyone whom infected individuals have contacted.