Enhanced health screenings are being undertaken at three airports in the United States by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Department of Homeland Security’s Customs and Border Protection as a result of an outbreak of respiratory infections from a new coronavirus in the city of Wuhan in China’s Hubei Province.
The CDC and CBP began screenings Jan. 17 at San Francisco (SFO), New York (JFK), and Los Angeles (LAX) airports to detect ill travelers to this country on direct or connecting flights from Wuhan in response to an outbreak there caused by a novel coronavirus (2019 nCoV) that has resulted in 40 confirmed infections and two deaths in humans from the virus whose origin is being investigated in that city in Central China.
Illness symptoms related to the outbreak as said to include fever, cough, and difficulty breathing.
A number of countries are actively screening incoming travelers from Wuhan and exported cases have been confirmed in Japan and Thailand. The outbreak comes at a time of increased travel in that region of the world as the start of the Chinese New Year begins Jan. 25.
“To further protect the health of the American public during the emergence of this novel coronavirus, CDC is beginning entry screening at three ports of entry,” said Dr. Martin Cetron, director of CDC’s division of global migration and quarantine, in a statement.
“Investigations into this novel coronavirus are ongoing and we are monitoring and responding to this evolving situation.”
There are several known human coronaviruses that usually only cause mild respiratory disease, such as the common cold.
However, at least twice previously, coronaviruses have emerged to infect people and cause severe disease, such as has been seen with severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) and Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS).
The cases in what has been called the Wuhan pneumonia outbreak are said to have tested negative for both SARS and MERS.
According to the statement from the CDC, the three U.S. airports where enhanced screening is being done are the ones that receive most of the travelers here from Wuhan.
The statement also said that based on current information, the risk from 2019-nCoV to the American public is currently deemed to be low, but that the CDC is taking proactive preparedness precautions.
The statement said the CDC is deploying about 100 additional staff to the three airports to supplement existing staff at CDC quarantine stations located at those airports.
It described entry screening as part of a layered approach used with other public health measures already in place to detect arriving travelers who are sick to slow and reduce the spread of any disease into the United States.
The cases in China area said to have been identified by Chinese authorities between Dec. 8, 2019, and Jan. 8. Both patients who died were older adults and one of the two patients had known serious underlying medical conditions.
Most cases have been linked to the Wuhan South China Seafood City, suggesting a possible zoonotic origin to the outbreak.
In addition to seafood, the market sells chickens, bats, cats, marmots, and other wild animals.
Chinese health officials closed the market for cleaning and disinfection on Jan. 1.
It is recommended that nonessential travel to Wuhan be avoided and the CDC is advising anyone going there to practiced enhanced precautions.