Passengers from Wuhan, China will be screened on entry at three U.S. airports for the novel coronavirus that has now identified among 45 people in that central China city, as well as in a Japan patient and at least two in Thailand who had travelled there, public health officials announced today.
The corona virus, dubbed 2019 nCoV, has been linked to visits to a seafood and live animal market in Wuhan, a busy transportation hub, but, with not all cases identified sharing that link, is believed to have been possibly transmitted from person to person, as well as from animal to person. As a newly discovered virus of apparently zoonotic origin that is now crossing national borders and causing severe illnesses in some of the people infected, and deaths in at least two, 2019 nCoV presents challenges reminiscent of outbreaks of SARS in 2003 and MERS in 2015, Dr. Nancy Messonnier of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said today. Those challenges include the lack of treatment or vaccine for a newly discovered virus, as well as no acquired population immunity. Monitoring and surveillance capacities, as well as public health preparedness protocols have improved greatly since those outbreaks, with public health officials now poised to respond “quickly and collaboratively,” she said. The risks of the virus spreading in the United States is low, she said, adding “for a family sitting around the dinner table tonight, this is not something to worry about.”
It is, however a situation demanding public health readiness and caution, she and CDC Division of Global Migration and Quarantine Director Dr. Martin Cetron emphasized.
Two of the three airports where screening will take place, JFK in New York City and San Francisco International Airport are the only two receiving direct flights from Wuhan, China. The third, LAX in Los Angeles receives indirect flights, Dr. Cetron said. About 60,000 passengers a year fly from Wuhan to the United States, he said, with an estimated 10 percent of them — more than any other month arriving in January, due to the Chinese New Year celebrations. Protocols are in place for screening and transport of passengers with symptoms of the virus, he said, initiated during the West Africa Ebola outbreak from 2014 to 2016. During that outbreak, he noted, no regularly scheduled direct passenger flights existed between the three most affected countries and the U.S.
China has shared the genetic sequencing used to diagnose and confirm infection in Wuhan as well as Japan and Thailand patients within about an hour of taking a sample and the CDC expects to have a quicker test ready within the week. The CDC issued a health alert for travelers on Jan. 11, and is updating its guidance on the coronvirus for health providers.
Science Speaks has posted a series of updates and FAQs on 2019 nCoV by Dr. Daniel Lucey since Jan. 8.