HIGHFILL, Ark. (KNWA) — A potentially deadly virus has hit the U.S., and now more airports are screening passengers traveling from China.
At least 17 people have died and close to 600 have been infected with coronavirus.
A majority of those people are from the city of Wuhan, China.
Three cities in China with a combined population of more than 18 million people are on lock down.
One American in Washington was diagnosed with the virus.
While the World Health Organization announced on Thursday it is not a global health emergency, health officials in Arkansas are on high alert.
The Arkansas Department of Health is keeping a close eye on the outbreak.
Three airports around the country, including John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York, Los Angeles International Airport, and San Francisco International Airport are screening all passengers from Wuhan.
By the end of this week, Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport and Chicago O’Hare International Airport will do the same.
Symptoms of coronavirus include fever, coughing, sore throat, and headaches.
“It can be pretty contagious. It’s spread through respiratory droplets, contact with secretions…so someone blowing their nose…really good hand hygiene is super important with this,” said Dr. Blake Hansen, Family Physician for Northwest Health in Springdale. “There are cases where it can develop into pneumonia or severe symptoms…patients with a decreased immune system would be a little more susceptible with the severe spectrum.”
Using thermal screenings, airport officials can see if passengers have a fever.
The Northwest Arkansas Regional Airport is not screening for this virus.
Airport officials say there are no inbound passengers from China, as they usually land at larger airports first and get screened there.
Dr. Gary Wheeler, the Senior Medical Consultant with the Arkansas Department of Health, says its partnering with national organizations like the CDC and World Health Organization.
It’s also communicating closely with local companies like Walmart, which owns the largest corporate fleet in the world.
“We have worked with businesses seamlessly in the past for Ebola outbreaks and others, and they been in communication with us regarding their plans and we know they are monitoring all of their travelers very closely,” he said.
Dr. Wheeler points to the incubation period of about two weeks, saying there’s a relatively low risk for further spread.
“Preliminary conclusions we have so far are that this is not as severe a virus as the infections we saw in SARS or MERS. The mortality rate appears to be much lower,” Dr. Wheeler said.
Each outbreak is different, so the ADH is monitoring it closely.
XNA will get the official word from the CDC and the ADH should a plan of action become necessary.