Influenza May Have Caused Sickness for Passengers on Emirates Flight to JFK

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A plane traveling from Dubai to John F. Kennedy International Airport became quarantined after over 100 passengers were to have reported symptoms like fever, coughing, or vomiting. Upon arrival at Terminal 4, the Emirates Airbus A830 was met by the Centers for Disease Control and Port Authority police.

All passengers were required to be screened by physicians at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. After passing through screening, 10 people were held for further evaluation at a hospital to run tests for respiratory illness, according to officials. The majority of the other passengers were cleared to continue on their travels.

A CDC official quickly saw that the entire situation exhibited similarities to respiratory illnesses including influenza and Middle East Respiratory Syndrome, or MERS, a deadly viral respiratory disease which was first seen in 2012. This conclusion was corroborated by New York City acting Health Commissioner Dr. Oxiris Barbot, who told reported the cause of the illness on Emirates Flight 203 is “probably influenza.”

Passenger Erin Sykes told CBS Channel 2, “Even well before the flight when we were on line getting on board (in Dubai), there were people that were obviously very sick that should not have been allowed to get on board in the first place.” There was initial worry that an aggressive strain of the influenza virus had followed several passengers from Mecca, a city in Saudi Arabia, where it has been reported to have been infecting inhabitants in the area.

Many took to social media to document the events that transpired while on the flight, including musician Vanilla Ice, who tweeted a video with the caption, “So I just landed from Dubai and now there is like tons of ambulances and fire trucks and police all over the place.” He stated that the plane had two decks, and the illnesses were isolated to the lower cabins.

Erin Sykes, another passenger on the flight, told CNN, “I asked the (flight attendant) for a mask before we even took off, but there was none available,” citing that she witnessed many exhibiting flu-like symptoms while still at the airport. She said that the flight crew did not report anything about sick passengers until about 30 minutes before the aircraft landed, which is when the passengers discovered they were being held on the runway until further examination.

The agency said in a statement, “Passengers who are not ill will be allowed to continue with their travel plans, and if necessary will be followed up with by health officials.”

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