Passengers walk past the medical quarantine area showing information sheets for the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome virus at the arrival section of Manila's International Airport in April. / Aaron Favila, AP
After the diagnosis of a second case of MERS in the U.S., federal health officials have posted warnings at nearly two dozen airports and reminded Customs staff to be on alert for sick travelers.
However, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention doesn't recommend travelers change plans because the risk is low from the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome virus, which tends to spread through close person-to-person contact, usually through relatives or health care workers. The World Health Organization, while saying it was concerned about the virus, has stopped short of calling the recent outbreak a public health emergency.
The CDC's health advisory posted at 22 airports urges travelers to prevent spreading germs by washing their hands and avoiding touching their face. It also discourages contact with sick people.
If a traveler develops symptoms such as fever, cough and shortness of breath within 14 days of visiting the Arabian Peninsula, the CDC suggests contacting a doctor and discussing the trip.
Major airports have quarantine stations for travelers exhibiting symptoms. Anne Schuchat, director of the CDC's center for respiratory diseases, said quarantine staffers and Customs officials have been reminded about symptoms and approaches to take.
The CDC has asked airline crews to report any passengers feeling feverish or with a temperature of at least 100 degrees, or who has a cough or difficulty breathing. The warning applies to flights from Bahrain, Iraq, Iran, Israel, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Oman, Palestinian territories, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Syria, the United Arab Emirates and Yemen.
Tom Frieden, director of the CDC, said the agency doesn't recommend screening all passengers coming off flights because they might not have developed symptoms yet or might be sick with something else.
The two U.S. cases involved health care workers who had returned from Saudi Arabia and were diagnosed Sunday in Florida and May 2 in Indiana.
Airport health advisories are relatively rare. Previous times that the CDC has posted advisories in airports include the December 2013 outbreak in the Caribbean of chikungunya virus, which causes joint pain and is transmitted by mosquitoes, and the April 2009 outbreak of swine flu called H1N1.
The 22 airports with CDC advisory posters about MERS are: the New York area's John F. Kennedy, LaGuardia and Newark; Los Angeles; Chicago's O'Hare; Washington's Dulles; Houston; Dallas/Fort Worth; Atlanta; San Francisco; Seattle; Miami; Denver; Orlando; Boston; Minneapolis/St. Paul; Detroit; San Diego; Philadelphia; Charlotte; Las Vegas; and Baltimore.
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