By Dennis Thompson
MONDAY, Oct. 6, 2014 (HealthDay News) -- President Barack Obama said Monday that his administration is preparing additional screening measures to prevent the Ebola epidemic ravaging West Africa from gaining a foothold in the United States.
Obama, after meeting with his top security and health advisers, did not specify what those measures might be. But senior federal health officials said the steps could include "entry screening," which is screening travelers arriving in the United States from West African nations battling the Ebola outbreak, Fox News reported.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, noted that current screening measures primarily consist of checking passengers for fever as they leave the affected African nations.
Fauci said the president and his staff are now considering screening measures at U.S. airports, Fox News said.
"That's certainly open for discussion," he said.
Dr. Tom Frieden, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, confirmed that the extra screening might include asking travelers who they had contact with in Africa and checking them for fever, the network reported.
Obama also urged other countries to do more to help contain the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, calling it a matter of global security, USA Today reported.
"We have not seen other countries step up as aggressively as we need them to," Obama said.
Underscoring the sense of concern was the revelation Monday that a nurse in Spain has become the first person known to catch Ebola outside of West Africa. She was part of a medical team that treated a 69-year-old Spanish priest who died in a Spanish hospital last month after being flown back from Sierra Leone, the Associated Press reported.
Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia are the West African nations hit hardest by the epidemic.
Obama's announcement Monday followed word over the weekend that the first Ebola patient to be diagnosed in the United States had "taken a turn for the worse," federal health officials reported Sunday.
Thomas Eric Duncan, a native of Liberia, is receiving experimental treatment and supportive care at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Dallas. Hospital officials changed his condition from serious to critical over the weekend.
"Ebola is a deadly disease that can affect many parts of the body," Frieden said during a Sunday news briefing. "It can be very challenging to support the vital functions while the patient's natural immune system is trying to fight it [the virus] off."
Federal and state officials said Sunday that "things are going well" in Dallas as they work to prevent potential spread of the disease. Sixty-six of 114 people being investigated for possible contact with Duncan have been cleared and the rest are being monitored for signs of infection. Those at highest risk include seven health care workers and three members of Duncan's family who live in Dallas, the Dallas Morning News reported.
None of the known or suspected contacts has developed any symptoms of Ebola, officials said.
Also Monday, the fifth American to become infected with Ebola in West Africa -- a freelance cameraman working for NBC News -- arrived at a Nebraska hospital to begin treatment.
Wearing a white hooded jumpsuit, Ashoka Mukpo, 33, arrived by ambulance at the Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha, where he will be kept in an isolation unit designed to treat highly infectious diseases, NBC News reported.
The Nebraska hospital is the same one that successfully treated another American infected with Ebola while working in West Africa -- Dr. Rick Sacra, a 51-year-old medical missionary.
The CDC's Frieden has said repeatedly that Ebola is not easily transmitted -- to become infected a person must come into direct contact with the bodily fluids of a person who is suffering symptoms. Those symptoms include fever, muscle pain, vomiting and bleeding and can appear as long as 21 days after exposure to the virus.
Duncan entered the United States on Sept. 19, apparently healthy and without any Ebola symptoms. He first developed symptoms Sept. 24 and sought care two days later at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital, but was released from the hospital.
Duncan was taken back to Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital on Sept. 28 after his condition worsened.
As many as 4,000 U.S. troops could be deployed to West Africa to combat future spread of the virus. Troops have been slowly building up in the affected nations, including advance forces who are directing the deployment to places of need.
The Ebola epidemic in West Africa is the worst outbreak ever of the disease. So far, an estimated 7,500 people have become infected and an estimated 3,430 people have died in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, according to the World Health Organization.
U.S. health officials have warned that the epidemic could hit as many as 1.4 million people by mid-January unless outside nations mount a rapid and concerted response to the crisis in Africa.