CDC to Screen Travelers for Novel Coronavirus at Three US Airports

Megan Brooks

January 17, 2020

In response to an outbreak of pneumonia in Wuhan, China, caused by a novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV), starting today, health officials with the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) will begin screening passengers at three US airports to detect ill travelers entering the country on direct or connecting flights from Wuhan.

The "enhanced" symptom-based health screening of passengers will be conducted at San Francisco (SFO), New York (JFK), and Los Angeles (LAX) airports, which receive most of the travelers from Wuhan.

The CDC has deployed about 100 additional staff to these three airports to help existing staff at CDC quarantine stations located at those airports, the CDC said during a media briefing.

This is a "serious" and "fast-moving" situation, Nancy Messonnier, MD, director, National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, said at the briefing.

"Based on the information that CDC has today, we believe the current risk from this virus to the general public is low," she said. "However, we are still early in this response, and the situation is still evolving hour by hour and day by day."

Case Counts

To date, China has reported that 45 individuals have been infected with 2019-nCoV and that two deaths have occurred. Both deaths were in older adults, one of whom had known serious underlying medical conditions.

In addition, this week, three cases outside of China were identified ― two in Thailand and one in Japan. All were travelers from Wuhan.

Regarding the source, Chinese health officials report that most of the patients who were infected with 2019-nCoV had been exposed to a large seafood and live-animal market, suggesting animal-to-human spread. There is also some indication that person-to-person spread is occurring, Messonnier said.

Chinese authorities, however, say several hundred healthcare workers caring for infected patients are being monitored, and no spread of the virus from patients to healthcare workers has been seen. For now, there is no sustained spread of the virus in the community.

The CDC is currently advising travelers to Wuhan to avoid animals (alive or dead), animal markets, and contact with sick people.

"Our recommendations will continue to evolve as we learn more about the virus," Messonnier said.

The CDC says entry screening at the three airports is part of a layered approach used in conjunction with other public health measures already in place to detect arriving travelers who are sick.

"We will triage for evaluation patients of concern, who will be referred to a facility that can do a regular diagnostic workup and collect the specimens to send to CDC for testing," Martin Cetron, MD, who directs the CDC's Division of Global Migration and Quarantine, said at the briefing.

Using the genetic sequence provided by the Chinese, the CDC already has the ability to identify this novel virus were it to occur in the United States. The CDC is working on a specific and rapid diagnostic test to detect it and will be distributing it to state health departments, Messonnier noted.

The CDC may adjust screening procedures and other response activities as the investigation continues and more is learned about the virus.

The CDC has established an incident management structure to coordinate response and is monitoring the situation with teams on the ground in China, Thailand, and Japan.

For the latest information on the outbreak, visit the CDC's Novel Coronavirus 2019 website.

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