Three US airports will screen passengers arriving from central China for a new virus that has sickened dozens, killed two and prompted worries about an international outbreak, health officials said Friday.
Centres for Disease Control and Prevention officials say they will begin taking temperatures and asking about symptoms of passengers at three US airports who travelled from the outbreak city of Wuhan.
Officials estimate roughly 5,000 passengers will go through the process in the next couple of weeks at New York City's Kennedy airport and the Los Angeles and San Francisco airports. The first direct flight was expected Friday night at Kennedy, and the next expected Saturday morning in San Francisco.
Doctors began seeing a new type of viral pneumonia - fever, cough, difficulty breathing - in people who worked at or visited a food market in the suburbs of Wuhan late last month. More than 45 cases of the newly identified coronavirus have been confirmed in Asia, most of them in Wuhan, including two deaths - at least one involving a previous medical condition. Officials have said it probably spread from animals to people but haven't been able to rule out the possibility that it spreads from person to person.
So far, the risk to the American public is deemed to be low, but the CDC wants to be prepared and is taking precautions, the CDC's Dr. Martin Cetron said.
"The earlier we detect a case, the better we can protect the public, and the more we can understand about this virus and its risk for spread," he said in a call with reporters.
It's always possible a virus can mutate to become more dangerous. It's also likely that more cases will spring up around the world, including at least one at some point in the United States, said another CDC official, Dr. Nancy Messonnier.
The CDC is sending in 100 staffers to handle the airport screenings. Passengers who seem like they might be infected will undergo testing for flu or other possible causes. The plan is to place them in isolation at a nearby hospital until doctors know what they're dealing with, to prevent possible spread of the new virus. Specialised testing for the virus can take a day for results, CDC officials said.
At least a half-dozen countries in Asia have started screening incoming airline passengers from central China. The list includes Thailand and Japan, which both have reported cases of the disease in people who had come from Wuhan. Travel is unusually heavy right now as people take trips to and from China to celebrate the Lunar New Year.
Australian Associated Press