On 5 September 2018, HealthMap noted multiple news-media reports and twitter posts of sick passengers on an Emirates flight, which had landed at John F. Kennedy airport in New York and originated from Dubai. Original reports specified 100 sick passengers, presenting with fever and cough. The plane was being quarantined while awaiting CDC. More information on source of illness, other symptoms, confirmation of case count, and possible exposures were sought through the EpiCore system's Request For Information (RFI). HealthMap is a partner organization of EpiCore, a virtual community of health professionals using innovative surveillance methods to verify outbreaks of infectious diseases. When information on possible, rumored, or yet-to-be-confirmed outbreaks is brought into the HealthMap surveillance system, our data analysts have the option of sending an RFI, requesting more information from EpiCore members on the ground, and therefore speeding the time to outbreak detection and confirmation.
As a response to the EpiCore RFI sent at 10:32AM EST, almost immediate follow-up was received from an EpiCore member indicating that three passengers were taken to the hospital reporting "burning of the throats" and confirmed that CDC involvement and testing would ensue. Following the receipt of the first confirmation of the public health event via the RFI, other news-media reports began to indicate that the number of cases on the flight was now reported to be 10. A second response to the RFI was received on the EpiCore platform on 6 September 2018, indicating that three passengers and seven Emirates crew members had been taken to the hospital. The RFI response also indicated that test results initially confirmed H3 strain influenza virus(es). Also on 6 September 2018, news-media sources reported "A majority of the tests showed common viruses such as influenza and the common cold…The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said in a statement that the patients are being treated by the hospital, including receiving antivirals. Other passengers who develop symptoms should call their doctor." The press secretary for NYC mayor tweeted: "All the passengers are off and have been evaluated. 19 sick. 10 to hospital and 9 refused medical attention."
This public health event was confirmed, thanks to contributions by EpiCore members and simultaneously confirmed via news-media reports and Twitter posts. The HealthMap team will continue to post about public health events that have been verified via the EpiCore platform, so please follow along here on Disease Daily. These confirmed influenza cases are also a friendly reminder to get your flu shot and to stay home if you are feeling ill.