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RIC passengers move past Ebola concerns

Posted at 7:57 PM, Oct 02, 2014
and last updated 2014-10-03 09:39:53-04

RICHMOND, Va. -- Most passengers flying out of Richmond International airport (RIC) are focused on one thing; getting to their destinations.

"I just want to get to my gate," said Noreen Atkins, RIC passenger. "I'm hoping the flight is on time, and I want to go where I'm going."

But news of an Ebola patient passing through Washington Dulles International airport has air travelers here concerned over their own health.

"It's a dangerous virus and it's not something I want to have exposed to me," said Valerie Houk, RIC passenger.

But doctors at VCU Medical center say the virus does not pose a huge public health risk in the US because the disease is not airborne.

"It's not casual contact like shaking hands with someone or saying hello," said Gonzalo Bearman, Chief of Infectious diseases, VCU Medical center. "But actually caring for a patient who's infected with Ebola and touching their secretions or being near them when they sneeze or cough."

Gonzalo Bearman says Ebola is a severe viral infection in which the symptoms can stay in the body for up to 21 days before you become infected.

"So, you could've been infected and don't know it," he said. "And you feel perfectly fine and you enter the country without symptoms and you pass through the screen."

But Bearman said any patients who've contracted the Ebola virus would be taken to isolated areas of the hospital for treatment.

"We're ready to identify and then we have isolation precautions in place with the appropriate personal protective treatment in the negative pressure rooms to triage patients for safety," said Bearman.

​Which is why passenger Noreen Atkins says she'll practice good hygiene, and won't let concern keep her from flying.

"I travel a lot for work," she said. "So, it's a necessity."

The CDC will notify an airline when it learns that an infectious person traveled on that carrier.  The airline will then turn over its flight manifest to the CDC.  That allows health officials to notify other passenger who were on board and deal with crew members.

RIC spokesman Troy Bell issued a statement.

“The CDC has been actively providing information to international travelers, health officials, and screening personnel at airports. While the effort is presently focused on international gateway facilities which are more likely to encounter travelers who are returning from regions affected by Ebola, the communications are being received beyond the gateways, including at RIC.”