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Infrared technology protecting against EbolaOctober 2014


Alan Gilbert, General Manager, BSRIA Instrument Solutions
As Heathrow and many other international airports start to employ screening procedures in the fight against the spread of Ebola, BSRIA Instrument Solutions General Manager Alan Gilbert discusses how the technology will be used.

Q. What technology will be used at Heathrow?
A. Heathrow will be using IR (Infrared) spot type thermometers to take skin temperature of people that have been identified as coming from areas affected by the current Ebola outbreak.  These thermometers can detect skin temperature at a distance, which in this application means there is no direct contact between passengers being screened and the instrument being used.

Q. A number of international airports are starting to use thermal imaging camera to screen for the Ebola virus, why is that?
A. Although there is a low risk of catching Ebola by sharing a plane with an infected person Ebola is a particularly virulent virus and nations and airlines are acting responsibly by identifying any infected travellers prior to boarding the plane or entry into a country.  The use of thermal imaging cameras is a cost effective unobtrusive means of detection to screening a large volume of travellers.

Q. Why use thermal imaging cameras?
A. Thermal Imaging cameras are used to identify and measure the amount of heat that any object produces and emits, this includes people.  The thermal imaging equipment used is able to identify the temperature of a large number people simultaneously and with processing software they can quickly identify any individuals with potentially a higher body temperature.


A thermal image will quickly show that an individual has a higher than normal body temperature and further testing and questioning is needed
Q. What will the thermal image show?

A. It depends on the technology which is being, but in general terms the thermal image will show that an individual has a higher than normal body temperature and further testing and questioning is needed. 

Q  Has thermal imaging been used before?
A.  Yes, in the past when we had a SARS outbreak some high tech thermal imaging cameras were used to identify individuals with increased temperature through an individual’s sinus tracts.  Cameras were used around the world in this application as a tool to reduce the spread of the disease and to quickly spot individuals who may be at risk from infection.

Q. Which technology is better for screening?
A. Both thermal imaging cameras and IR thermometers are equally appropriate for use in screening as both technologies will identify passengers who are emitting a higher temperature, this will then allow the authorities to identify passengers who need to undergo further medical examinations.

Q. What happens if somebody is stopped as a result of the screening?
A. There will be a medical team at the airport who will quarantine the individual and undertake a further medical examination, this will involve undertaking a blood test to allow a proper diagnosis to be made.

Q. If you get stopped as a result of the screening does it mean you are suffering from Ebola?
A. Not necessarily, you could have no more than a common cold or an upset stomach, conversely somebody with Ebola may be in the incubation period of the disease and not show up as being infected as a result of the screening.  Due to the numbers of people travelling it would not be practical to undertake full medical examinations on all travellers, so using thermal imaging equipment is considered to be the best method for undertaking mass screening on travellers.

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