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Concerns Of Coronavirus Outbreak Prompt SFO To Screen Some Travelers From China

SAN FRANCISCO (KPIX 5) -- The number of confirmed cases of the "novel coronavirus" rose sharply over the weekend, from 51 to 218, on Monday and the death toll now stands at three, according to Chinese state media.

The dramatic increase is due in large part to new diagnostic testing that has confirmed previously undetermined cases.

The virus, which causes flu and pneumonia-like symptoms, appears to be creeping across Asia and moving west, now with one confirmed case in Incheon, South Korea. The vast majority of the cases are in the city of Wuhan, China, but the virus has also been detected in the Guangdong province, Shanghai, Beijing, Bangkok, and Kanagawa, Japan.

The virus appears to have originated at a seafood and livestock wholesale market in Wuhan. The Chinese government only recently confirmed Monday that the disease can be spread through human to human contact.

"It's very concerning. It demonstrates quite clearly that at least under some circumstances, human to human spread is not only possible, but can be frequent. So, that's an ominous sign," said Dr. William Schaffner, an infectious disease specialist at the Vanderbilt Medical Center in Nashville.

At San Francisco International Airport, a travel advisory has been in effect since last week, requiring all fliers coming directly from or connecting from Wuhan to undergo screening.

About 150 passengers arrive on direct flights from Wuhan every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. CDC personnel will pull them aside for additional screening within the customs area, require they answer a questionnaire and take their temperature. It is a labor intensive task, as 100 CDC staffers have been sent to SFO, LAX, and JFK to screen all the incoming Wuhan passengers.

"One of the questions I'm sure will be debated by the CDC is, ought they open the screening process to everyone who's coming in from China?" said Schaffner.

Mary Doherty spent thousands of dollars to travel from Ireland to see her daughter and was not fazed by the outbreak.

"If the man above decides if I have to get it, I get it. No little virus will stop me," said Doherty.

Health officials are especially concerned about the spread of the disease as millions will be traveling during the busy Chinese New Year's holiday.

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