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On January 17, 2020, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) dispatched teams to three U.S. airports that have flights coming from Wuhan City, Hubei Province, China. The three airports are New York's JFK, San Francisco International Airport, and Los Angeles's LAX, which receive a connecting flight from Wuhan.
This is the peak travel season between the U.S. and China due to the Chinese Lunar New Year, which falls on January 25, 2020. Wuhan City is the epicenter of a new coronavirus called 2019 nCoV. Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses that cause illness in people and animals, such as camels, cats, and bats.
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There have been 45 cases of the new virus in China, with two people dying, and there have been three cases outside China, two in Thailand, and one in Japan.
The CDC teams will screen incoming passengers for fever and respiratory symptoms. Anyone showing symptoms will be quarantined until they can be tested for the virus.
Symptoms of a coronavirus
Symptoms of coronaviruses include cough, runny nose, sore throat and fever, and some coronaviruses lead to pneumonia. An example of a coronavirus is Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS). Between November 2002 and July 2003, an outbreak of SARS in southern China spread to 37 countries and caused 8,098 cases with 774 deaths.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), SARS has a 9.6% fatality rate. No cases of SARS have been reported worldwide since 2004. In late 2017, Chinese scientists determined that the SARS virus originated in cave-dwelling horseshoe bats in Yunnan province, then spread to civet cats before spreading to people.
Another coronavirus is the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS), which was first reported in Saudi Arabia in 2012. This is an especially deadly coronavirus with a mortality rate of 36%. It also arises from bats, then spreads to camels before spreading to people.
As of April 4, 2017, there have been about 2,000 cases of MERS. A strain of the disease known as HCoV-EMC/2012 was found in 2012 in a person in London, and a large outbreak occurred in the Republic of Korea in 2015.
Animal-to-person then person-to-person spread
Chinese health authorities have posted the full genome of "2019-nCoV" in GenBank, the National Institute of Health's (NIH) genetic sequence database. They have also posted it to the Global Initiative on Sharing All Influenza Data (GISAID) site.
The initial cases in China had links to an animal market in Wuhan, which suggests an animal-to-person spread. Later patients reported no exposure to the animal market, which suggests a person-to-person spread.
As for the disease spreading to the United States, an NBC News article quoted the director of the CDC's National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, Dr. Nancy Messonnier, saying, "we're concerned any time there is a new virus or new pathogen emerging in a population that hasn't seen it before. What it means is that populations don't have existing immunity, and we don't have specific treatments or vaccines."
Messonnier went on to say, "I think it's highly plausible that there will be at least one case in the United States. That's the reason we're moving forward so quickly with this screening."
Steps the CDC is taking
Regarding this emerging public health threat, according to their website, the CDC is:
- Working with the World Health Organization (WHO)
- Establishing an Incident Management Structure to coordinate a domestic and international response
- Updating its interim travel health notice for those traveling to Wuhan City
- Issuing an interim Health Alert Notice (HAN) Advisory to inform state and local health departments and health care providers about this outbreak
- Detecting 2019-nCoV by sequencing the virus and comparing it to sequences that are publicly posted.
Currently, testing for this virus must take place at CDC.