How thermal-imaging cameras can spot flu fevers

May 01, 2009 By BARBARA ORTUTAY , AP Technology Writer
FILE - In this April 27, 2009 file photo, in hopes of spotting feverish travelers, thermal images are seen on a monitor showing recent arrivals to the Taoyuan International Airport, in Taoyuan, Taiwan. Because of swine flu fears, airports around the world are installing thermal imaging cameras to take travelers' temperatures without having to stick thermometers in their mouths. (AP Photo, File)

(AP) -- To screen passengers for swine flu and other contagious diseases, some airports use thermal imaging cameras to see whether travelers have fevers, without having to stick thermometers in their mouths. So how do the cameras work?

The devices are just like regular cameras, except that instead of recording light that objects reflect, these cameras are sensitive to heat. They can even work in the dark.

Recordings from these cameras show up on video screens with hotter objects looking brighter. The systems are very sensitive, measuring temperatures down to a fraction of a degree Fahrenheit, said Andrew Sarangan, an associate professor in the University of Dayton's electro-optics program.

Thermal cameras were rolled out during the SARS outbreak in 2002 and 2003, and airports in Singapore and China have been using them continuously since, said Alan Thomson, regional sales director at U.K.-based Irisys, a maker of thermal imaging devices.

Now manufacturers say they've noticed an uptick in orders in recent days. "The phone hasn't stopped ringing," Thomson said.

In Mexico, which already has 10 such cameras, the transportation secretary, Juan Molinar, said Thursday that 40 more were being bought for the country's eight largest airports.

Of course, while the cameras can detect higher temperatures, they can't screen for swine flu itself. Someone running to catch a flight can have a higher body temperature, as can someone who's just had a drink. A fever also does not necessarily mean someone is sick with , so airports need to do further screening once they spot passengers with high temperatures.

Irisys' cameras, which cost about $3,000, merge visual and thermal images to create a "heat picture" of a person. This image shows up on a screen on the back of the , much like the displays on consumer cameras. A pointer automatically shows the hottest area in the picture, which is usually a person's face, mainly because it's not covered in clothes.

Tony Trunzo, senior vice president at Wilsonville, Ore.-based Flir Systems Inc., said his company has seen orders pick up not only from airports, but factory operators as well.

Flir's cameras have improved significantly since the SARS outbreak, Trunzo said. The cameras have a higher resolution, for example. They've gotten cheaper, too, though the company's cameras still range between $10,000 and $15,000.

Flir also has determined that it's best to screen one person at a time, instead of scanning a large crowd.

---

Associated Press Writer Morgan Lee in Mexico City contributed to this report.
©2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Explore further: White House backs use of body cameras by police

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Asia on alert after flu threat spreads

Apr 26, 2009

Asian health officials went on alert Sunday as a flu strain that has killed dozens of people in Mexico appeared to have spread to New Zealand, underscoring warnings of a potential pandemic.

Sony Cameras Wait for Baby to Smile

Jan 25, 2008

Sony has recently unveiled eight new cameras in its 2008 Cyber-Shot series. The cameras, which include entry level models and more advanced designs, will begin shipping this spring.

Mexico City closes museums to stop flu outbreak

Apr 24, 2009

(AP) -- Mexico's federal government has closed museums, libraries, and state-run theaters as well as schools in its overcrowded capital to stop a swine flu outbreak authorities say may have killed as many ...

Scientists study speed camera efficacy

May 02, 2006

Australian research reviewers say "speed cameras" and other devices can cut vehicle accident rates by allowing officials to identify and charge speeders.

Recommended for you

White House backs use of body cameras by police

Sep 16, 2014

Requiring police officers to wear body cameras is one potential solution for bridging deep mistrust between law enforcement and the public, the White House said, weighing in on a national debate sparked by the shooting of ...

Chinese city creates cellphone sidewalk lane

Sep 15, 2014

Taking a cue from an American TV program, the Chinese city of Chongqing has created a smartphone sidewalk lane, offering a path for those too engrossed in messaging and tweeting to watch where they're going.

Coroner: Bitcoin exchange CEO committed suicide

Sep 15, 2014

A Singapore Coroner's Court has found that the American CEO of a virtual currency exchange committed suicide earlier this year in Singapore because of work and personal issues.

User comments : 4

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

ArtyNouveau
not rated yet May 01, 2009
This will measure will not identify the recently infected, but still asymptomatic traveler. Still, better than nothing.
Fazer
not rated yet May 01, 2009
Wow, they just used an IR imager on the sci-fi show Fringe this week to find an infected person in a crowd who had some rediculously high body temperature.

So they just grab anyone with an apparent temperature? Sounds like an impossible task.
Bob_Kob
not rated yet May 01, 2009
What if you were just jogging around for 10 minutes and were wearing a jumper?
E_L_Earnhardt
not rated yet May 03, 2009
An insys' camera could spot and track a tumor without the x-ray radiation that further activates cancer! Do physicians care more about patient health or expediancy and income? It's the HEAT that accelerates mitosis! (electron speed & spin)