Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Does Fingerprint ID at Entry Portals Spread Swine Flu?

On May 26th 2009, one month after the Swine Flu pandemic started, I entered the USA at Newark Airport, on my way to conferences in Winston Salem and Chicago. As I passed through Passport control I was asked to press my four fingers and then my thumb of each hand onto a glass plate and have my photo taken. The officer stamped my passport and then allowed me through with a cheerful remark.

As I walked away I looked back at the hundreds of people waiting in the Non-US Citizen lines, who were about to press their fingers on similar flat glass panels. I looked at my hands and wondered how many hundreds of people had touched that same glass panel before me. A looked to see if anyone was wiping the glass panels but did not see anyone doing that. From my own experience I knew that these devices worked best with slightly greasy fingers.

This happened five weeks after the first deaths from H1N1 were reported in the United States. I suspect that all non-US-citizens coming into the USA from Mexico would have had their fingerprints taken in the same way, since the procedure was adopted by DHS late in 2008 .

According to my sources, when many people touch hard surfaces in a short period of time they are very likely to spread viruses. Fingerprint recorders might be able to spread flu to hundreds of people.

It is June 29th 2009 now and I have just attended another flu pandemic lecture by experts in Europe. I was told today that the US pandemic has passed 1 million cases and the country is preparing for 100 million cases next winter. Luckily, I have not had any illnesses this trip. I wash my hands a lot now, and enter bathrooms by pushing the door with my elbows. I shake hands much less and gradually spend less time kissing and hugging people who are not close family members. I recall that Queen Elizabeth always wears white gloves when touching people - perhaps that would be a bit extreme - but perhaps not. I carry hand cleaner and wet-wipe tissues in my laptop bag now.

As I prepare for the long flight home to Perth Western Australia, my paranoia builds. My mind fills with questions such as.
  1. How many Non-US citizens developed flu after passing through US immigration?

  2. Do persons not fingerprinted (US Citizens?) have the same rate of flu as Non-US-citizens?

  3. How many people, after travelling abroad, then developed Swine flu but, as far as they knew, had never been in contact with a case?

  4. Do fingerprint machines still work if they are wiped with alcohol between people?

  5. Would it be possible to give everyone a little hand towel after passing through so that we needn't worry?

  6. Are the fingerprints really being used for anything or is it all just a practice run?

  7. Is there anyone at CDC who has tested these machines for viruses using a sufficiently sensitive and validated technique?

I sneezed once this afternoon but I feel quite well. It's probably an allergy. Have I still got my box of Relenza? I will make sure it is in my carry-on. Fingers crossed. Time to hit the sack.