Health Editor’s Note: While it is laudable that airports are screening for persons who are coming from Wuhan, China, and who might have the novel coronavirus in his or her system, the important issue is that a virus may be active in a person and the person may not be having symptoms yet……Carol
Major U.S. Airports to Screen for Novel Virus From China
by Molly Walker,Associate Editor, MedPage Today January 17, 2020
In response to an outbreak of novel coronavirus, public health screening will begin at three major U.S. airports that receive travelers from Wuhan, China, the CDC announced on Friday.
Starting on Friday, airports in San Francisco (SFO), New York (JFK), and Los Angeles (LAX) will screen for symptoms associated with this virus in travelers arriving from direct or connecting flights from Wuhan, where the outbreak originated, the agency said in a statement.
Officials said that they expect to see cases of this novel virus “around the world” as people start to look for it more and that it is highly plausible at least one case will occur in the U.S.
Screening will begin Friday night at JFK for a flight that arrives around 10 p.m., CDC officials said in a conference call on Friday. JFK is one of two airports, along with SFO in San Francisco, that receive travelers on flights directly from Wuhan. Officials said that LAX was included because of the large volume of passengers coming from indirect flights.
Passengers will be screened about symptoms and fever at the airport and people of concern will be triaged for evaluation, including a more detailed exam and questions about exposures. They will then be referred to a facility where, ultimately, diagnostic tests can be performed.
CDC said its lab “already has the ability to identify the pathogen,” with the exact sequence of the virus, which is publicly available. They added that they are working on a test to identify the virus to distribute to state health departments.
In the statement, CDC said it is deploying about 100 additional staff at the three airports to supplement staff at CDC quarantine stations.
So far, there have been 45 cases of novel coronavirus reported worldwide, with CDC officials saying that four more cases have been reported “in the last couple of hours.” Two people have died; both were older, and one had multiple preexisting medical conditions. There have also been two cases in Thailand and one in Japan, all of whom were travelers from Wuhan.
Coronaviruses can transmit from animals to humans, as was thought to be the case when a number of cases originated from visits to a seafood and animal market in Wuhan. But Daniel Lucey, MD, spokesperson for the Infectious Diseases Society of America, told MedPage Today that the travelers’ cases indicated enough evidence that limited person-to-person transmission was occurring.
“It’s person-to-person transmission until proven otherwise,” Lucey said. “But like 2003 [with the SARS outbreak], we don’t know much of this novel coronavirus is going to become person-to-person transmittable.”
He said that the clinical pattern of the deaths so far has been similar to that of other coronaviruses — SARS and MERS — as the two patients who died were ages 61 and 69. Wuhan municipal health authorities said that “more severe disease is likely in people who are older and have underlying conditions,” Lucey noted.
However, this virus differs from SARS so far in that there have been no infections among healthcare workers. Lucey noted that of 419 healthcare workers being monitored, none have become ill.
At the CDC briefing, Nancy Messonnier, MD, director of the agency’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, described the risk to the general public as “generally low.”
“For families sitting around the dinner table tonight, this is not something they need to be worried about,” she said.
But Lucey said it is still early days for this outbreak, and he agreed with the CDC’s assertion that the U.S. will see cases of this virus.
“It’s too early to know how many and how sick they will be,” he said.