Ebola Crisis Prompts New Use For Infrared Cameras

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Taking temperatures has become so commonplace in Liberia during the Ebola outbreak that at government buildings, officials staple the thermometer’s readout to your lapel so everyone knows you’re fever-free.

Ear-gun thermometers throughout West Africa have allowed officials to take temperatures without much contact, but now airports have taken the technology a step further: Infrared cameras measure body temperature to the hundredth of a degree, with zero contact.

Watch "Ebola: Are We Next?" on Thursday, Sep. 18, starting at 9/8c on both Discovery Channel and Discovery Fit & Health.

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“When we landed in Casablanca, instead of someone taking your temperature with the ear gun, they had us stand about 20 feet away from a staff person in nurses scrubs in front of an infrared camera,” said producer Nicole Beemsterboer in an NPR blog. “If anyone does have a fever, the airport staff doesn’t have to be anywhere near you.”

The same cameras were used in airports in China during the SARS outbreak.

“You know some people will travel with a fever, and they just feel ill, think that they may just have a stomach bug, not knowing that it could be a larger underlying problem,” David Strahan, of Infrared Cameras Inc., told 12News in Beaumont, Texas, where the camera company is based. “It could take up to 21 days to feel all symptoms from the Ebola virus.”

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As the disease spreads, precautionary measures such as standard temperature-taking have ramped up. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that “people who have been exposed to Ebola should not travel on commercial airplanes until there is a period of monitoring for symptoms of illness lasting 21 days after exposure.”

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