Travellers from Wuhan, China, who arrive at Vancouver airport will be told to report flu-like symptoms and could face additional screening after a deadly respiratory virus that originated in the city killed two people and infected another 45 overseas.
The Public Health Agency of Canada said that Canadians are at low risk of infection, given that Canada has no direct flights from Wuhan and few travellers arrive here directly from the city. But the agency said Friday that it will work to identify any travellers who might have been exposed.
“Additional measures to be implemented over the coming week include messaging on arrivals screens at the Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver international airports, reminding travellers from Wuhan to inform a border service officer if they are experiencing flu-like symptoms, and an additional health-screening question to be added to electronic kiosks,” the agency said in an emailed statement.
Earlier in the day, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the U.S. announced that extra screening would begin at the San Francisco, New York and Los Angeles airports and focus on travellers to the U.S. from direct or connecting flights from the central Chinese city.
So far, the new virus has spread outside of China to Japan and Thailand, and CDC officials said they expect more cases will be reported outside China. The risk to Americans is also deemed to be low, the CDC said.
While there have been no confirmed or suspected cases locally, the B.C. Centre for Disease Control said it is monitoring the situation closely.
“Although the risk to Canadians is considered low, to facilitate early detection and containment clinicians in British Columbia are asked to remain alert for possible importation by identifying patients with fever and acute respiratory illness [with/without pneumonia] who have a history of travel to Wuhan City, China within 14 days of symptom onset or another potentially relevant exposure,” the centre said in a bulletin posted Thursday.
Relevant exposure might include close contact with someone ill who recently travelled to Wuhan, the centre said.
The centre said infection control and public health measures are being developed nationally, and would be provided to doctors and nurses once available.
The Public Health Agency of Canada said if a traveller shows signs and symptoms of an infectious disease upon arrival in Canada, border officers or airport and airline staff can contact their agency’s quarantine officer, who may take appropriate measures to address any public health risk. Those measures might include ordering the traveller to be transported to hospital to undergo a medical examination, and reporting the issue to the local public health authority.
A Vancouver International Airport spokeswoman said the airport is following the guidance of the Public Health Agency of Canada and watching for any updates to its travel health advisories.
The Public Health Agency of Canada has also posted a notice regarding travel to Wuhan, putting it at the lowest risk level and advising travellers to take “usual precautions.”
The agency advises travellers to Wuhan avoid high-risk areas such as farms and live animal markets, and contact with animals or surfaces with their droppings or secretions on them. Travellers should also wash their hands often and cover their mouth and nose with their arm when coughing or sneezing.
The agency said it is monitoring the situation and working with the World Health Organization and other international partners to gather additional information.
Under the CDC’s screening procedures in the U.S., travellers from Wuhan will be taken to a separate area in the airport, where they will complete a questionnaire and be checked for fever. Those with symptoms will be asked additional health- and exposure-related questions, and those needing more followup will be referred to a designated health care facility for more testing.
The Chinese virus is a coronavirus, a large family of viruses that can cause infections ranging from the common cold to severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS, a highly infectious virus that originated in China in 2002 and eventually travelled to 37 countries, killing 774 people. So far, health officials do not consider the new virus from China to be as lethal as SARS, but the investigation is evolving and much is still not known about whether the virus can spread easily from person to person.
Chinese health officials report that most of the patients infected with the virus have had exposure to a large market where live animals were present, suggesting the virus is new and has jumped from animals to humans.
It is still not clear how well the virus can be transmitted from person to person, but there are indications of some limited spread from person-to-person, CDC officials said.
The World Health Organization this week provided guidance to hospitals worldwide about infection prevention and control in case the new virus spreads. There is no specific treatment for the new virus, but antiviral medications are being considered.