News from the FDA/CDC

Travelers to three U.S. airports to be screened for novel coronavirus


Three U.S. airports will begin health screening for travelers from Wuhan, China, because of an outbreak of pneumonia caused by a newly identified coronavirus called 2019-nCoV, according to an announcement from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

This transmission electron microscopic (TEM) image of a specimen extracted from a purified culture, revealed a number of coronavirus virions, each surrounded by its characteristic corona, or halo. CDC/John Hierholzer, MD

Starting today, Jan. 17, 2020, people traveling from Wuhan to New York (JFK), San Francisco (SFO), and Los Angeles (LAX) airports will be screened for symptoms associated with 2019-nCoV, which include fever, cough, and difficulty breathing.

“Based on the information that CDC has today, we believe the current risk for this virus to the general public is low,” Nancy Messonnier, MD, director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, said during a CDC telebriefing.

To date, 45 cases of 2019-nCoV have been reported in Wuhan, according to the CDC. The Wuhan Municipal Health Commission said 15 patients have been cured and discharged, 5 severe cases are still being treated, and 2 patients have died. Both deaths occurred in older patients, one of whom was aged 69 years and one aged 61 years. One of the patients was known to have underlying health conditions.

Three cases of 2019-nCoV have been confirmed outside of Wuhan, one in Japan and two in Thailand. All three were travelers from Wuhan.

The virus is believed to have originated at Wuhan South China Seafood City, a market that sold seafood, chickens, bats, cats, marmots, and other wild animals. (The market has since been closed and disinfected.) The origin suggests animal-to-human transmission of 2019-nCoV, but it appears that human-to-human transmission can occur as well.

“While most of these infections seem to be happening from animals to people, there is some indication that limited person-to-person spread is happening,” Dr. Messonnier said.


Because of this potential risk, the CDC is working with the Department of Homeland Security’s Customs and Border Protection to screen travelers from Wuhan to the United States. The CDC is deploying about 100 additional staff to JFK, SFO, and LAX, where direct flights (JFK and SFO) or connecting flights (LAX) from Wuhan land.

The CDC could not confirm if exit screening is planned for people traveling abroad from Wuhan.

At the U.S. airports, travelers from Wuhan will be given a questionnaire asking about symptoms of 2019-nCoV (fever, cough, and difficulty breathing). People who exhibit symptoms will be assessed and questioned further. If they are believed to have 2019-nCoV, they will be sent to designated hospitals, where they will be examined, and samples will be collected.

Samples from patients with suspected 2019-nCoV will be sent to the CDC for analysis. Chinese health authorities made the full genome of 2019-nCoV publicly available, which will allow the CDC to confirm any cases that may arise in the United States. The CDC is currently working on a test to detect 2019-nCoV, which can be distributed to state health departments.

Earlier this month, the CDC issued a Level 1 Travel Health Notice for travelers to Wuhan and a Health Alert on 2019-nCoV. The latest information on 2019-nCoV can be found on the CDC’s Novel Coronavirus 2019 webpage.

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