The CDC will begin conducting screenings for deadly virus at U.S. airports.
Three airports in San Francisco, New York, and Los Angeles will start checking travelers arriving from Wuhan, China, for signs of a respiratory virus that has killed two people and left ill 45 others, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The federal agency said those infected seem to have picked up the virus from animals at meat markets. However, researchers believe that it can also spread from human to human like the deadly viruses SARS and MERS. The CDC is working on a diagnostic test that will be sent to hospitals and state health departments to determine whether people are infected.
So far there have been 136 new cases of the respiratory illness with two cases in Beijing and one in Shenzhen. Airports in Singapore, Hong Kong and Tokyo have been screening air passengers from Wuhan. The World Health Organization (WHO) is currently not recommending restrictions on travel or trade, but this could quickly change as the situation is further examined.
“The rise in cases in China was a result of increased searching and testing for [the virus] among people sick with respiratory illness. As more cases are identified and more analysis undertaken, we will get a clearer picture of disease severity and transmission patterns,” the agency said.
“This is a serious situation,” insisted Dr. Nancy Messonnier, the director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases. “We know it is crucial to be proactive and prepared.” Of instances in the United States to date, she added, “We believe the current risk from the virus to the general public is low.”
About 60,000 to 65,000 people a year travel to the United States from Wuhan. Over the next few weeks, some 5,000 passengers are likely to be checked for signs of the new infection, according to Dr. Martin Cetron, director of the CDC’s division of global migration and quarantine. In total, he said, there will be an estimated 100 experts from the CDC will be at the three airports.
“Travelers will be asked to fill out questionnaires asking if they have symptoms like a cough or a fever, and whether they have visited meat and seafood markets in Wuhan,” Dr. Cetron said.
Thermal scanners will be pointed at the forehead or temple to look for signs of a fever. People with signs of illness will be examined further, along with others traveling with them. Anyone displaying signs of the mysterious infection will be sent to hospitals for further testing and follow up treatment if needed.
“The screening could take time,” Dr. Cetron warned, adding, “Some passengers may miss connecting flights.”
Dr. Messonnier said, “The severity of SARS and MERS puts health officials on high alert when dealing with new coronaviruses. If the virus is jumping from animals to humans for the first time, which may be the case in the current outbreak, people almost certainly have no immunity to it. It doesn’t take much for a virus in general to go from being worrisome to being extremely worrisome, because they tend to morph and mutate a lot.”