Sea-Tac Airport vigilant for potentially infected travelers

Although Sea-Tac Airport isn’t one of the five U.S. airports destined to begin enhanced screening of international travelers for the Ebola virus, officials say the airport is on alert to detect potentially sick passengers.

Officials at the airport, who couldn’t speak for attribution, said both the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Customs and Border Protection Service routinely work with airlines to screen potentially ill passengers.

“It’s something we do every day,” an airport official said, “if it’s for Ebola, or SARS or for avian flu.”

Airlines often radio ahead to notify the CDC office at Sea-Tac of passengers showing symptoms of illness. Those passengers are met at the gate by a team of medical professionals who take them to a private area for further questioning and medical screening. If those passengers show signs of infection, they are taken to Harborview Medical Center for care and possible isolation.

If the CDC suspects that multiple passengers may have been exposed to the infection, the airport has contingency plans to deplane those passengers at a remote location for screening and consultation.

If need be, Sea-Tac can cordon off a portion of a passenger concourse to allow medical professionals to do the testing and screening.

Customs officials have also been trained to screen international passengers entering the country for signs of illness. In recent weeks, all agencies involved in the screening process have updated their training in light of the new Ebola threat.

Sea-Tac has no direct flights to West Africa where the Ebola epidemic has broken out.

Approximately 90 percent of the 4,500 weekly passengers arriving in the U.S. from West Africa pass through one of the five U.S. airports — New York JFK, Newark, Washington Dulles, Atlanta and Chicago O’Hare –– picked to begin enhanced screening this week. Some passengers from West Africa may change planes at European hub airports before flying to the U.S. Sea-Tac has nonstop flights to hubs in London, Paris, Frankfurt and Amsterdam.