A New SARS-Like Outbreak in China Is Freaking Out the CDC

Passengers coming from Wuhan, China will be screened for a ‘novel coronavirus’ at three major U.S. airports.
Katie Way
Brooklyn, US
Airport people walking around
Photo by Classen Rafael via Getty Images

There’s a new viral threat in town—and no, we’re not talking about someone’s bad tweets. Since the end of 2019, reports of a novel strain of coronavirus sickening people in Asia, with confirmed cases in Japan, Thailand, and China, where the outbreak began. So far, a total of 48 cases have been reported, 45 of them in China. The majority of the cases reported stem from the city of Wuhan, including the two deaths attributed to coronavirus so far.


The novel coronavirus’s symptoms are flu-like, according to the Center for Disease Control, and include coughing, fever, and breathing issues that can eventually progress into pneumonia. But, given the rate at which it has already spread, the CDC announced Friday that it will begin screening travelers coming from Wuhan for the disease at three major airports (JFK in New York, LAX in Los Angeles, and SFO in San Francisco) in order to prevent it from spreading to the U.S.

Although the number of confirmed cases is relatively low, this kind of preventative action is prudent. Officials at the CDC have likened this outbreak to similar, deadlier coronavirus outbreaks, better known by the acronyms MERS and SARS. The SARS outbreak, which began in 2003, ended up sickening over 8,000 people, with a death toll of 774; no cases of SARS have been reported since 2004. A total of 2494 confirmed cases of MERS, and 848 associated deaths, have been reported since September 2012, but reports have declined drastically since 2014.

The CDC has dispatched “about 100 additional staff” to assist with the screening, according to a press release from the agency. But as anyone who’s ever accidentally brought weed on a plane knows, it’s pretty easy to get through an airport screening with something you’re technically not supposed to have. It is worth noting, however, that when these outbreaks occur worldwide, U.S. citizens don’t tend to be the ones most affected—only eight patients in the U.S. tested positive for SARS, and only two for MERS, so don’t freak out and call a flight attendant if your seatmate has the sniffles.

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