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Euro Surveill. 2015 May 7;20(18). pii: 21114.

Public health response to two incidents of confirmed MERS-CoV cases travelling on flights through London Heathrow Airport in 2014 – lessons learnt.

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Centre for Infectious Disease Surveillance and Control, Public Health England, London, United Kingdom.


In May 2014, Public Health England was alerted to two separate laboratory-confirmed cases of Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV) infection who transited through London Heathrow Airport while symptomatic on flights from Saudi Arabia to the United States of America. We present the rationale for the public health response to both incidents, and report results of contact tracing. Following a risk assessment, passengers seated two seats around the cases were prioritised for contact tracing and a proactive media approach was used to alert all passengers on the planes of their possible exposure in both incidents. In total, 64 United Kingdom (UK) residents were successfully contacted, 14 of whom were sat in the priority area two seats all around the case(s). Five passengers reported respiratory symptoms within 14 days of the flight, but all tested were negative for MERS-CoV. Details of non-UK residents were passed on to relevant World Health Organization International Health Regulation focal points for follow-up, and no further cases were reported back. Different approaches were used to manage contact tracing for each flight due to variations in the quality and timeliness of the passenger contact information provided by the airlines involved. No evidence of symptomatic onward transmission was found.

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