Skip to Main Content
Skip Nav Destination

CDC using flu surveillance network to detect coronavirus :

February 14, 2020

Editor's note:For the latest news on coronavirus disease 2019, visit

Federal health officials plan to use their existing flu surveillance network to help detect whether coronavirus is spreading in communities.

The U.S. has 15 confirmed cases of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), most of which are in people who traveled to the center of the outbreak in China. Nancy Messonnier, M.D., director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC’s) National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, said using the existing surveillance system is an efficient way to watch for more person-to-person spread.

“All of our efforts now are to prevent the sustained spread of the virus in our community, but we need to be prepared for the possibility it will spread,” Dr. Messonnier said. “Results from this surveillance would be an early warning signal to trigger a change in our response strategy.”

The surveillance will begin with labs in Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco and Seattle and eventually expand to others. If specimens at those labs test negative for flu, they would be tested for the new coronavirus.

In addition to the 15 confirmed cases in the U.S., 81 people are awaiting test results. More than 600 people recently returned to the U.S. from China on State Department flights and are under quarantine. The CDC recently sent test kits to labs in every state so testing can be done closer to patients. However, some kits had issues with reagents. Dr. Messonnier said Friday she does not yet have a timeline for those kits being reissued.

The U.S. cases of COVID-19 are among more than 500 outside China. In that country, more than 47,500 cases have been laboratory confirmed and more than 16,000 additional cases in Hubei province have been confirmed clinically, but not through lab results. More than 1,300 people in China have died.

The case counts in China include more than 1,700 health care workers. While no health care workers in the U.S. have contracted the disease, Dr. Messonnier encouraged them to take precautions. The CDC has released detailed guidance on preventing the spread of the virus in health care settings at

The World Health Organization (WHO) also has been at the forefront of the response. This weekend, it is sending more experts into China to study issues like how the disease spreads, its severity and whether the response has been effective.

Earlier this week, the WHO convened a meeting of more than 300 experts to discuss priorities, which include diagnostics that can be used in hospitals and better treatment options. Several vaccine candidates are in the works and could go into human trials in the next several months. However, they may not be ready for use for 12-18 months.

The CDC is asking health care providers to be vigilant for patients with a fever or respiratory symptoms who have traveled to China or been in contact with someone who has coronavirus. Full CDC guidance is available at

Officials recommend the public avoid respiratory illnesses by washing their hands, covering their mouths when coughing and staying home when they are sick. Wearing masks is not necessary.

Close Modal

or Create an Account

Close Modal
Close Modal