The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has announced it will be testing patients with flu-like symptoms for novel coronavirus in five different cities.
Director of the CDC’s Center for the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases Nancy Messonnier made the announcement in a Friday media briefing.
As of the briefing, labs in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle, Chicago and New York City will be participating in the surveillance, but “this is just the starting point,” according to Messonnier.
“We plan to expand to more sites in the coming weeks until we have national surveillance,” she said.
The surveillance is said to be a helpful detection tool for “if and when” coronavirus spreads into the community.
“All of our efforts now are to prevent the sustained spread of the virus in our community. But we need to be prepared for the possibility that it will spread,” Messonnier said. “Results from this surveillance would be an early warning signal to trigger a change in our response strategy.”
To conduct this surveillance, the CDC will be modifying existing surveillance systems used for the flu and viral respiratory disease to be able to detect COVID-19 as well.
The coronavirus tests will only be given to patients who test negative for influenza, NBC News reported.
Coronavirus symptoms can be similar to flu-like symptoms including fever, cough and shortness of breath, according to the CDC. However, unless someone has a direct link to Wuhan, China, or a patient infected with the virus, it is more likely that they have the flu.
The flu currently is a much larger threat to American communities, with at least 26 million cases this season. About 14,000 have died from the illness, including 92 children.
“We have the vaccines and the drugs to fight flu illness,” Messonnier reminded reporters. “We don’t have the tools yet for this novel virus but there are things everyone can do to contain the spread of the illness: stay informed.”
As of Friday, there have been 15 confirmed cases of coronavirus in the United States, and all of them can be traced to travel in Wuhan.
“There will likely be additional cases in the coming days and weeks, including among other people recently returned from Wuhan,” the CDC said in a statement.
The Trump administration has implemented travel restrictions on foreign nationals by denying entry to those who visited China in the 14 days before they arrived in the United States, according to CNN. U.S. citizens are also subjected to mandatory quarantine for 14 days upon their arrival.
“Right now we’re in an aggressive containment mode,” Dr. Robert Redfield said in a Thursday interview.
“We don’t know a lot about this virus,” he added. “This virus is probably with us beyond this season, beyond this year, and I think eventually the virus will find a foothold and we will get community-based transmission.”
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