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Airport Scanners Provide Reliable Way To Detect Fever

October 14, 2010

Researchers reported on Wednesday that two commercially available scanners meant for use in airports and other public facilities can reliably detect people with fevers, making them useful during disease outbreaks.

An Nguyen of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and colleagues found that the scanners, which work at a distance of 3 to 6 feet, do a better job of detecting fevers than when people are simply asked if they feel feverish.

“Our evaluation of three infrared thermal detection systems in emergency department settings found that the FLIR and OptoTherm reliably identified elevated body temperatures,” they wrote in the journal Emerging Infectious Diseases.

Thermal imaging and infrared camera maker FLIR Systems Inc. makes an airport scanner known as ThermoVision A20M.  OptoTherm Thermal Systems and Infrared Cameras Inc. make another known as the OptoTherm Thermoscreen.

Airport fever scanners were used in countries during last year’s pandemic of H1N1 swine flu and the 2003 outbreak of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome or SARS, which killed about 800 people around the world before it was contained.

When diseases are spreading fast, some experts recommend screening airline passengers, who can carry viruses around the world in just a few hours.

“Advancements in transportation coupled with the growth and movement of human populations enable efficient transport of infectious diseases almost anywhere in the world within 24 hours,” Nguyen’s team wrote.

“Because fever is a common indicator of many infectious diseases, the rapid identification of fever is a major component of screening efforts.”

The team said that people fearful of being detained may lie about the symptoms they are feeling.

“Despite limited evidence regarding their utility, infrared thermal detection systems are increasingly being used for mass fever detection,” Nguyen and colleagues wrote.

They detected about 90 percent of the fevers in several emergency rooms they tested the systems in.

That compared with 75 percent accuracy when people were asked if they felt like they had a fever.

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