Screenings for the novel coronavirus that’s sickened 48 people in China, Thailand and Japan will begin tonight for passengers arriving from Wuhan, the center of the to outbreak, at John F Kennedy International Airport (JFK), US officials said Friday.
Saturday morning, screenings will also begin at San Francisco International Airport, which receives direct flights from Wuhan, as well as at Los Angles International Airport (LAX), which receives a comparable number of indirect flights.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) officials have created questionnaires about symptoms of the newly identified virus that’s killed two people to distribute to passengers.
The virus belongs to the same family as SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) and MERS (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome), which killed 774 people in 2003 and 787 people in 2018, respectively.
Passengers with symptoms will then be questioned more thoroughly and examined for fevers and undergo a diagnostic test for the virus on-site before potentially being referred to off-site and unidentified quarantine and assessment facilities.
CDC officials say that the risk of exposure is currently considered low, but Dr Nancy Messonnier, director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases said she thinks that it’s ‘more than likely that we’ll see at least a case in the US’ before the outbreak is over.
Dr Martin Cetron, director of the CDC’s Division of Global Migration and Quarantine, said he estimates some 5,000 passengers will be screened in the US in the coming weeks.
So far, Wuhan has not been conducting exit screens, but he said they may begin doing so on Friday.
‘The current risk from this virus to the general public is low,’ said Dr Messonnier during a Friday call with reporters.
‘For a family sitting around the dinner table tonight, it’s not something they need to worry about.’
Nonetheless, she and the CDC are taking every precaution when it comes to protecting the US from the novel coronavirus that emerged at the end of last year in Wuhan.
‘Any time there is a new virus or pathogen in a population that we’ve never seen before, it’s concerning, because that population doesn’t have existing immunity, treatment or vaccines,’ said Dr Messonnier.
‘We’re especially concerned [by the new coronavirus]because we have the precedents of SARS and MERS and those were difficult outbreaks with many illnesses and deaths.
Health officials in Wuhan – the city at the heart of the outbreak – confirmed four new cases today, taking the total to 48.
But Imperial College London researchers say this may be the ‘tip of the iceberg’ after analysing flight and population data.
They estimated there has been 1,700 cases of the coronavirus – which has never before seen in humans. But they added it could have passed 4,000.
This is based on the fact three cases have been detected outside of China, despite the likelihood of infected patients travelling abroad is low.
Thailand today announced a second confirmed case of the coronavirus in a woman who had travelled from Wuhan. Japan reported its first case on Thursday.
Two men in their sixties in Wuhan have already died in the outbreak, which has left health chiefs scrambling to contain the virus amid fears it will spread.
People carrying the novel coronavirus may only have mild symptoms, such as a sore throat, and assume they have a common cold, British scientists warned.
Professor Neil Ferguson, who led the research, told MailOnline: ‘Our main estimate is 1,700, but the range means we are 95 per cent sure the real number relies within 190 and over 4,000.
‘I became more concerned when cases were detected in places other than China. Generally when we see cases overseas it implies there are more cases.
‘There have been three cases detected overseas. There is about one in 600 chance each case would happen to be getting on a plane and going somewhere.
‘If that’s the case, it would imply there is 1,700 cases in Wuhan itself. Which is a lot more that has been so far confirmed. There have to be a lot more cases.’
A total of 48 people who have pneumonia-like symptoms have now tested positive for the coronavirus, Wuhan Municipal Health Commission has said.
Four new cases were revealed today, all of whom were male and fell ill between January 5 and 8, and hospitalised between January 8 and 13. They are now in a stable condition at Jinyintan Hospital.
‘We don’t know if this is the tip of the iceberg. We need more information, we only have scant details,’ Professor Ferguson said.
He investigated the spate of cases in Wuhan city with colleagues at MRC Centre for Global Infectious Disease Analysis, a branch of Imperial College London which provides advice for new diseases.
Using flight data, they report that 3,300 people in Wuhan fly internationally per day, and Wuhan International Airport has a catchment population of 19million individuals.
Based on these figures, they calculated that there is only a one in 574 chance that a person infected in Wuhan would travel overseas before they sought medical care in their holiday destination.
Using the number of cases detected outside China, it is possible to estimate the true number of clinically comparable cases within Wuhan City.
Three travelers from Wuhan have tested positive for the coronavirus outside China, which implies there might have been over 1,700 cases in Wuhan so far [(three x 574].
Estimates range from 190 cases to 4,471 because the team explored different scenarios.
The report concludes: ‘It is likely that the Wuhan outbreak of a novel coronavirus has caused substantially more cases of moderate or severe respiratory illness than currently reported.’
It added that if cases are this high, substantial human to human transmission can’t be ruled out.
So far, health officials have said there is ‘limited’ to zero evidence that humans can spread the virus, focusing their attention on animals as the source.
The majority of the infected patients in Wuhan have been traced to the Huanan Wholesale Seafood Market, which has been shut down since January 1.
The new coronavirus, which is yet to be named, causes cold-like symptoms including a runny nose, headache, cough, sore throat and a fever.
Professor Ferguson said: ‘It’s winter, it’s an enormous city with lots of people with cold and flu. People would realise they were feeling ill, but not that they have the coronavirus.
‘We want to start recommendation from this that surveillance needs to be enhanced across the city, looking for people that are reporting even flu like symptoms.
‘They need to start looking generally in hospitals for people with respiratory symptoms – that might be happening already but we don’t know.’
The World Health Organization (WHO) has said ‘much remains to be understood’ about the coronavirus, which has been described as ‘novel’.
Although the genetic sequence of the strain has now been released, scientists are still questioning how deadly it is, and whether it can be spread between humans.
Professor Ferguson said information like this tends to come to light around one month after the outbreak begins, but relies heavily on co-operation from China.
He said: ‘We need more systemic data from China. Their only really two weeks from discovering this and I suspect they are focusing on collecting data.
‘We really don’t know the spectrum for the disease severity is.’