Infrared laser thermometers and other Ebola screening measures

infrared laser thermometers ebola

Fever is one of the first symptoms of Ebola, so handheld infrared laser thermometers are the first line of screening when it comes to detecting potentially-infected travelers at airports and stopping them from boarding planes and possibly transmitting the disease. Additionally, ear gun thermometers and full-body infrared scanners are among the methods being used at airports in West Africa, the United States, Russia, Australia, India, and other countries. Several of these countries have been advised by the CDC and instructed to take the temperature of any traveler attempting to leave the country. Passengers with an “unexplained febrile illness” of 101.4 F or higher are held back for a questionnaire, medical tests, or other forms of additional screening.


Infrared thermometer

Ear gun thermometer

Full-body scanner


Handheld ray gun

Electric toothbrush w/o head

Camera (sometimes mounted on tripod)


Laser is pointed at traveler’s hand or forehead from a distance of approx. 6” to measure body temperature. Less invasive than ear gun and more thorough than full-body scanner.

Plastic cap-covered pointy end is inserted in the ear while the other end is held by airport official 6-8” away to measure.

Depicts external body temperature with colors (green, yellow: good; red: bad) on a computer monitor. It can screen several people at once without having to stop them.


Most are FDA-approved for use in medical settings. Official thermometer of the U.S. government.

The closer it gets to the ear drum without touching the membrane the more precise the reading. However, the average ear gun doesn’t get close enough for a true reading.

Measuring skin temperature as a proxy for internal body temperature is not always reliable.


(quotes from

“You don't have to touch anyone. The risk of cross-contamination and infection is less, and you spend less time worrying about disinfecting the tool.” - Francisco Alvarado-Ramy (CDC medical officer).

“When you are holding something away from the individual, there is dust, air current, humidity, and these things can affect the temperature measurement. And your inch is different than my inch, which means everyone is measuring slightly differently.” - Marybeth Pompeii (Exergen chief clinical scientist).

“The move in hospitals is toward these infrared thermometers. They are within the range of the most accurate temperatures.” - Dr. Amesh Adalja (public health expert for the Infectious Disease Society of America).

“Ear thermometers are accurate within a reasonable range. If you have a fever, these thermometers will register it.” – Adalja.


Since the same device is used on many travelers, it could become contaminated; disposable caps are an added expense; and the thermometer has to be calibrated just properly. 

“They measure the heat radiating off of someone. That's not quite the same as internal body temperature.” / Adalja.

“You can just go to the ladies room and splash some water on your forehead. You're going to exhibit evaporative cooling, even if you have a high fever. And you'll just sail through.” – Pompeii.

These devices identify travelers as febrile or non-febrile less than 70% of the time. - BMC Infectious Diseases study, 2011.

Some experts have expressed concern that infrared laser thermometers and related products aren’t foolproof; for instance, low-grade fevers can be made even lower with over-the-counter drugs like Tylenol or Advil. Nevertheless, “airline and airport staff are trained to do visual checks of anyone who looks even slightly ill,” CDC quarantine medical officer says. “And most airports are using multiple temperature checks, starting when you arrive on the airport grounds in your car until you get on the plane. Even if you take medication, your fever will likely have manifested by then.” 

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