Airports in New York, San Francisco and Los Angeles will begin screening passengers arriving from Wuhan, China, for infection with a mysterious respiratory virus that has killed two people and sickened at least 45 overseas, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced on Friday.
Most people with the disease are believed to have contracted it from exposure to animals at a market that sells seafood and meat in Wuhan, and it is not certain that the virus spreads from person to person. But a few cases have not been linked to animals, and researchers say some human-to-human transmission may be possible, so precautions are necessary.
About 100 experts from the C.D.C. are being deployed to the three airports. The first flight to be screened will arrive at New York’s John F. Kennedy Airport on Friday night, Dr. Martin Cetron, director of the C.D.C.’s division of global migration and quarantine, said at a news briefing.
J.F.K. is the only airport in New York where the screening will take place. Screening at San Francisco International and Los Angeles International will begin on Saturday.
Over the next few weeks, some 5,000 passengers are likely to be screened, Dr. Cetron said.
From 60,000 to 65,000 people a year travel from Wuhan to the United States. Only New York and San Francisco receive direct flights from Wuhan; those passengers arriving in Los Angeles are on connecting flights.
“I think it’s highly plausible there will be a case in the United States,” said Dr. Nancy Messonnier, director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases in Atlanta.
Travelers will be asked to fill out questionnaires asking if they have symptoms like cough or fever, and whether they have visited meat or seafood markets in Wuhan, the epicenter of the outbreak.
Screeners will also use thermal scanners that can be pointed at the forehead or temple to look for fever. People with signs of the illness will be examined further, and those who seem likely to be infected will be sent on to area hospitals for further testing. Dr. Cetron declined to say which hospitals they would be sent to.
The illness was first reported in late December in Wuhan, in central China. Fears of a more widespread outbreak arose this week when two cases were found in Thailand and one in Japan, apparently carried to those countries by air travelers from Wuhan.
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The disease is caused by a coronavirus, a member of a family of viruses that can cause respiratory ailments ranging from colds to pneumonia.
A different coronavirus caused the SARS outbreak in 2003, which originated in China and was spread to other countries by travelers, infecting more than 8,000 people and killing nearly 800.
A coronavirus is also the cause of MERS, another severe respiratory ailment that has been present in Saudi Arabia and other Middle Eastern countries since 2012.
The MERS virus is carried by camels, and most cases have come from contact with the animals, but infected people can spread it to one another. The death rate has been high, from 30 percent to 40 percent of cases.
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