Traditional methods of taking a patient's temperature require touching a thermometer to a person's ear or mouth — a risky procedure in the case of Ebola, which is thought to be spread by direct contact and bodily fluids. But clinical infrared thermometers, such as the kind the CDC has ordered, can measure body heat accurately from a few inches away. The $300 device, sold by Miami-based Sanomedics, works like a TV remote (and rather looks like one, too). To measure a person's temperature, the health worker points the device at the patient's forehead and presses a button. The results, said company founder Keith Houlihan, are comparable to an orally administered thermometer reading.
"Ebola just put it over the top," said Houlihan. "I have hundreds of inquiries that are coming in … In an emergency, you've got make do with what you have. But we're here. We could help."
It's not just the CDC, which ordered 80 thermometers, according to Houlihan. The National Institutes of Health also requested some of the thermometers on Monday, and hospitals have been accelerating their purchases as they scramble to respond to Ebola, Houlihan said. (The CDC declined to comment; a spokesman for the NIH did not immediately respond to a request for comment Tuesday.)
No-touch thermometers have been in use for decades for commercial purposes, such as inspecting HVAC systems. But Sanomedic claims its device is the only touch-free thermometer that’s been cleared by the Food and Drug Administration for clinical use in the United States. Meanwhile, health workers in West Africa have begun using infrared thermometers to screen for Ebola, too, which may be where U.S. officials got the idea to adopt the technology. The infrared thermometers may even be cheaper than traditional ones in the long run because they don't require the use of disposable sanitary covers — a cost that can add up over time.