CDC Plans to Aggressively Monitor Travelers with Viruses

( – The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is looking to get out ahead of new respiratory virus strains before winter hits. The Traveler’s Health branch of the CDC began conducting surveillance at airports during the pandemic but recently announced that it was expanding the program to test for over 30 different pathogens. The main focus will be on respiratory viruses like RSV and influenza viruses. International travelers at four major airports will be asked to voluntarily submit to a nasal swab to contribute to the research. Wastewater will also be tested.

The new expanded program will take place at New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport, Washington D.C.’s Dulles International Airport, San Fransisco International Airport, and Boston Logan International Airport. Dr. Cindy Freidman is leading the program, and she believes that it is a no-brainer. She said that conducting genomic sequencing on the samples has allowed the CDC to “know very quickly what was coming into our country.” Nearly 6,000 travelers have provided samples for the program each week. Wastewater from airplanes is sent to laboratories to be tested. If certain pathogens are found, then genomic testing is conducted.

One of the companies that has been working with the CDC since the program began is Ginkgo Bioworks. The company’s general manager said that their work is focused on preventing pandemic outbreaks. Since the pandemic began, Ginkgo has helped detect variants up to six weeks before they were known to the public. Hospital admissions from respiratory viruses are still expected to be higher than before the pandemic began. Detecting and genomically sequencing flu viruses in the fall will help mitigate the increase in cases in the winter months, according to Freidman. She also said that airports are mainly used to detect pathogens because many places in the world are not conducting any type of testing. The CDC has voiced concerns about syncytial virus infections, which can lead to a higher number of deaths than usual.

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