US health officials will start screening air travelers at three US airports for symptoms of a new Chinese virus outbreak that's been linked to at least two deaths.
Since late December, China has reported 45 cases of the new "coronavirus." The virus has been connected to a seafood market in Wuhan, a city of 11 million, apparently spreading from animals to people and causing pneumonia-like symptoms. Four new cases were just reported on Friday morning.
Two cases have also been reported in Japan and one was reported this week in Thailand, raising concerns that infections may also spread from person to person and could spark a global disease outbreak. Two people with the virus, both elderly, have died from pneumonia as a result.
Screening for symptoms will start tonight at the airports receiving the vast majority of US flights from Wuhan: New York's JFK airport, followed by San Francisco's SFO airport and Los Angeles' LAX. New York and San Francisco receive direct flights from Wuhan, while Los Angeles receives indirect ones. About 100 additional CDC staff will be added to the airports to help conduct the screenings.
"The earlier we detect a case, the better we can protect the public," said CDC's Nancy Messonnier, director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, in a telebriefing for reporters. "I think we are going to see more cases around the world," she added. "I think it is highly likely we will see a case in the United States."
Messonnier added that the risk of an outbreak in the US from the virus is "low," but health officials with experience of the past spreads of similar viruses like SARS and MERS want to stay ahead of the new outbreak. CDC issued a travel alert for Wuhan last week, urging only "essential" travel to the city.
January is peak travel season from Wuhan to the US, with about 6,500 arrivals, often tied to the Chinese Lunar New Year. CDC officials were still confirming whether the airport in Wuhan was screening travelers before they took their seats on airplanes there at the time of the telephone briefing.