- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 5, 2018

Eleven people were hospitalized Wednesday after their flight from the United Arab Emirates was quarantined at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York City amid reports of widespread illness on the plane.

Seven crew members and three passengers were taken to Jamaica Hospital Medical Center in Queens, where they were isolated and evaluated for treatment, authorities said. One other person on the Dubai to New York flight was taken to the hospital later in the day.

The scope of the onboard illness prompted a large-scale response Wednesday morning. Airport officials held the Emirates A380 commercial airliner on the tarmac, and at least five ambulances and police vehicles surrounded the plane, according to passenger photos posted on social media.

The response team included Centers for Disease Control and Prevention officials, Port Authority Police, Customs and Border Patrol officials, and New York City and state emergency medical services. CDC personnel boarded the plane to evaluate passengers and said about 100 people showed some signs of illness.

A spokesman for the New York City mayor’s office said nine passengers exhibiting symptoms refused medical treatment.



Larry Coben, a passenger who posted photos of the ordeal on Twitter, told The Washington Times that he didn’t see anyone ill before or during the flight and that everyone around him appeared fine.

“This is a double-decker plane that is huge so it could have been in another part of the aircraft,” Mr. Coben said.

A total of 549 passengers and crew were aboard Emirates Flight 203, which landed just after 9 a.m. The Port Authority said the pilot notified air traffic control before landing that some passengers were ill.

Among the passengers was rapper Vanilla Ice, real name Robert Van Winkle, who also documented the event in a series of tweets.

“This is crazy. Apparently there is over 100 people sick on the bottom floor, so happy I’m up top, it’s a double-decker plane 380,” he tweeted.

It took a little over 3 hours for all passengers to disembark, with CDC officials checking for fever and having people fill out location information forms for follow-up.

More than 59 million people traveled through JFK airport in 2017, an increase of more than 240,000 passengers than the year before.

Among security protocol, airports must work to prevent the spread of infectious disease, especially as global transit continues to become more accessible.

The spread of a novel flu strain in 2009 that led to a pandemic that year was exacerbated by infected passengers traveling between North America, Europe and Asia. Global deaths are estimated to have been between 123,000 and 200,000.

A report published last week in the journal BMC Infectious Diseases found that 10 percent of the most frequently touched surfaces in airports are contaminated with germs from the flu virus and the common cold. The worst offenders are plastic security screening trays, which are touched by every passenger going through the airport.

“International and national traveling has made the rapid spread of infectious diseases possible,” wrote Niina Ikonen, lead author of the report and a researcher into viral surveillance in Finland. “Little information is available on the role of major traffic hubs, such as airports, in the transmission of respiratory infections, including seasonal influenza and a pandemic threat.”

Germs also were found in the children’s play areas, elevator buttons, stair handrails, the passenger side of the ticketing desk and the divider glass at passport control points.

Yet armrest chairs in waiting areas, escalator handrails and toilets — including the upper surface of toilet bowl lids, the flush buttons and door locks — were free of communicable diseases.

Gabriella Muoz and Tom Howell Jr. contributed to this report.

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