Airlines on new frontline in MERS virus battle

Airlines in US track passengers who may have virus

Airlines in the US and around the world are on guard in efforts to track passengers who may have come into contact with known patients of the new MERS virus.

The World Health Organization has been alarmed by the spread of the potentially fatal Middle East respiratory syndrome, but says it does not – yet – make a global health emergency.

Researchers are still frantically gathering evidence about the mystery illness, which has flu-like symptoms, and its person-to-person transmissibility. The potential for it to spread on planes, buses and other transport networks makes it a potential threat to the travel industry.

There have been around 570 confirmed cases of MERS so far, including 171 deaths, the WHO says. Although many cases are confined to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, the number of countries with confirmed cases expanded this week to 18 with a case in the Netherlands.

American Airlines says it is “working very closely with the Centers for Disease Control, and contacted our flight crew as soon as we learned of [one] diagnosis. The CDC is in the process of contacting passengers to advise them of any necessary precautions.” Delta Airlines put out a similar message.

Two cases, both of whom had been health workers in Saudi Arabia, are confirmed in the United States, one in Indiana, the other in Florida. Airlines and a bus company they are known to have travelled on are working to track passengers who may have breathed in the virus.


[pictures: World Health Organization flag; courtesy United States Mission Geneva]

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