CDC Expands Airport Surveillance Operations

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The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and its private partner, Ginkgo Bioworks, announced an expansion of their airport surveillance program for respiratory infections.

Ginkgo Bioworks revealed that they will be broadening their collaboration with the CDC’s Traveler-based Genomic Surveillance program to test for over 30 additional priority pathogens, including influenza strains and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), in addition to the SARS-CoV-2 virus responsible for COVID-19.

This program employs a flexible and multimodal approach, utilizing three complementary methods for sample collection from arriving international travelers at U.S. airports. These methods include voluntary nasal swabbing, as well as the sampling of aircraft and airport wastewater. This comprehensive approach aims to enhance early detection of new SARS-CoV-2 variants and other pathogens, filling gaps in global surveillance efforts.

Dr. Cindy Friedman, chief of the CDC’s Travelers’ Health Branch, emphasized the importance of expanding the program, particularly as we approach the fall respiratory season. She stated:

The TGS program, which began during the COVID-19 pandemic, acted as an early warning system to detect new and rare variants of the SARS-CoV-2 virus and will do the same for other respiratory viruses going forward.

Since its inception in late 2021, the Traveler-based Genomic Surveillance program has enrolled over 360,000 air travelers. It is worth noting that participation in the program is voluntary and anonymous. This initiative covers flights originating from more than 135 countries worldwide, making it a comprehensive effort in bolstering global health security.

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In addition to Ginkgo Bioworks, XpresCheck, a company specializing in spa operations at airports, will also be participating in the program. The expansion of the program will initially be launched at prominent airports including New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport, San Francisco International Airport, Boston Logan International Airport, and Washington Dulles International Airport.


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