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Mystery Illness on Jet to JFK Is the Flu: Mayor's Office

Mystery Illness on Jet to JFK Is the Flu: Mayor’s Office

The mystery illness that sickened at least 19 people on a plane from Dubai to  John F. Kennedy Airport Wednesday has been confirmed as the flu in at least 10 cases, the mayor’s office said Thursday.

All 10 patients hospitalized after the nightmare flight will be kept in the hospital as a precaution, New York City Mayor press secretary Eric Phillips said on Twitter.

“Test results on the 10 hospitalized patients find influenza. Some tests came back inconclusive on other viruses, which is common. They’ll be re-administered this morning,” he said.

Emirates Flight 203 from Dubai was quarantined on the runway for hours Wednesday after 106 of the 521 passengers on board the flight reported feeling ill. The cause of the outbreak has not been confirmed, but a Jamaica Hospital spokesperson says multiple passengers and crew treated were experiencing headache, sore throat, coughs and fever.

The vast majority of the symptomatic passengers was cleared of illness and allowed to continue on the remaining legs of their trips. The office of NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio said 10 people — seven of them crew members and three passengers — were taken to hospital, while another nine were sick but declined medical attention. The CDC had slightly different information, saying 11 people were taken to hospital of a total 549 people on board.

The city health department says symptoms indicated “this is probably influenza,” but final determination is pending the lab results of the respiratory samples taken, expected later Wednesday night. Because the Emirates flight is so long, it’s possible that there was ongoing transmission on it, according to Dr. Oxiris Barbot, acting health commissioner. That specific scenario rarely happens, but the flu — which can take one to three days to incubate — does spread easily.

Erin Sykes, who was on the Emirates flight, told News 4 New York some passengers were sick before they even boarded the plane. “When they were standing in line to board, people were coughing,” she said. “People were not covering their mouths.”

Sykes became so concerned by the situation that she asked a flight attendant for a mask before the flight took off, she said. The attendant, however, said there weren’t any on board. “I proceeded to put my jacket and the blanket over my head for the entirety of the flight because so many people were coughing, and so dramatically,” she said, adding that some passengers were sick to their stomachs.

Passenger Hadi Nadimi recalled, “The gentleman sitting next to me said that he said he saw a lot of people, before we sat in the plane, lot of people were coughing and people were like spitting into napkins and stuff. So it was iffy from the get-go.” 

After landing, rapper Vanilla Ice confirmed he was also on the flight. He was not sickened.

The flight landed about 9:10 a.m. to a huge emergency runway response. Port Authority Police and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention were waiting in a staging area to check passengers.

“There was around five doctors, medical personnel who were coming downstairs on the lower deck to collect the passengers who were coughing,” said a passenger named Lydia Ayallew. 

Chopper 4 was over the scene at landing, where about seven ambulances were lined up to treat sick passengers, as well as dozens of other emergency response units including police and Homeland Security. 

Emirates issued a statement confirming that some passengers had taken ill. It later tweeted, “We apologize to our customers for any inconvenience caused. The safety and well-being of our customers and crew is always our top priority.” 

The mayor’s office initially said the flight had stopped in Mecca, which is experiencing a flu outbreak, and that may be a possible source of the outbreak. A spokesperson later said the flight was in fact direct, but that some of the passengers had previously been in Mecca. 

The CDC said passengers who are not ill would be allowed to continue with their travel plans. They advise anyone who got treated and released to see a doctor if they develop symptoms in the coming days. 

TV host Diala Makki, who flew in for Fashion Week, said she was going straight to the doctor’s office before heading to the red carpet. 

“The officials on the ground, they took our temperature to make sure we were OK,” said Makki. “It was a dramatic morning.” 

“My first question is, if it is a virus, why did they let them on the plane?” said passenger Srinivasa Rao. “I sat with them for 13 hours. If it is a virus, we are all breathing the same [air].” 

“I’m worried what’s gonna happen in the next 72 hours,” said Nadimi. “Am I gonna catch up something or not? I don’t know.” 

Jamaica Hospital officials said because those aboard the plane were kept in isolation, hospital operations were not impacted. The hospital was especially well prepared for the health emergency, because it had gotten federal funds and mandated training in the 2014 Ebola outbreak, according to former CDC chief medical officers Robert Amler. 

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