CDC Expands Disease Surveillance at Key Airports Ahead of Holidays

Expanded program aims to prevent outbreaks through early detection.

November 9, 2023

According to CBS News, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is enhancing its surveillance of infectious diseases at several major airports. This initiative is a precautionary measure to avert incidents like last winter’s contagious illness outbreak, particularly as the holiday season and cooler weather increase the risk of infection spread.

With Thanksgiving and the festive period drawing people indoors and into closer contact, the risk of transmitting respiratory viruses escalates. “[T]hat is usually what kicks off respiratory virus season,” noted epidemiologist Anne Rimoin. To monitor infections that are commonly spread via airports, the CDC’s disease surveillance will include international travelers at Boston Logan International Airport; Dulles International Airport in Dulles, Virginia; John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York City; and San Francisco International Airport.

This upgraded surveillance will test for over 30 different pathogens, including influenza and RSV. The testing, which will be voluntary for passengers, is part of a broader effort that started in 2021 to trace COVID-19 variants through nasal swabs and analyze wastewater from selected flights. “The key to it all is that the traveler really provides us with early critical information,” said Cindy Friedman, MD, CDC Chief of the Travelers’ Health Branch, emphasizing the program’s role in early detection and intervention.

The CDC expresses particular concern about winter outbreaks due to low vaccination rates. “We hope to do the same and have the same success with early detection and filling in the gaps with other respiratory viruses,” Friedman added. The program’s success in tracking COVID-19 variants has paved the way for its expansion.

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